For the St. Pius X football team, the countdown is on.
One more win and the Panthers will play in Waco for the TAPPS Division I state championship. Two more wins and the Panthers WILL be the TAPPS Division I state champs.
Using a 28-point second quarter to take control of the game, the Panthers then got a big stop from their defense late in the game last Saturday afternoon to defeat Dallas Bishop Dunne, 35-28, at Wildcat Stadium in Temple and advance to the TAPPS D-1 state semifinals 6 p.m. Saturday evening against unbeaten defending Division I state champion Dallas Bishop Lynch in Georgetown.
Bishop Lynch stands 12-0 this year and reached the state semis with a 42-7 win over Parish Episcopal at the same time St. Pius X was eliminating Bishop Dunne. In fact, both of Lynch’s playoff wins have been easy ones as they began Bi-District by whipping Beaumont Kelly, 55-14.
Bishop Lynch, when looking at the numbers, is a lot like St. Pius. Besides having numerous playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Vikings began the year by playing big public schools like Texarkana Texas and Irving to help them prepare for this time of the year. And much like St. Pius X whipping College Station, 36-0, back in September, the Friars put it on those schools pretty good as well. And like the Panthers, they’ve been involved in very few close games with a 17-13 win over District 1 mate Plano Prestonwood their nearest brush with defeat. And Plano Prestonwood is still alive, as the Lions are in the other TAPPS Division 1 state semifinal game, playing Tyler All-Saints for a berth in next week’s state finals at Midway High School.
Bishop Lynch likes to run the football, evidenced by their average of over 200 yards per game on the ground. Jacob Lewis leads the Knights with over 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns this year. Jacob Hudson and Jarek Broussard have combined for another 1,500 and scored nine times each so the Falcons will likely try to establish their running game as they always do. Quarterback Sam Vrana keeps defense honest, having thrown for just under 800 yards this year.
For the Panthers, the win over Dunne was just the third game this year they have been held to less than 40 points but they still were able to move the football to the tune of 415 yards in total offense. And they were hardly one-dimensional with quarterback Grant Gunnell throwing for 222 yards, including a touchdown, and running for 70 more with two of those carries ending in scores.
Tailback Kaleb Ducros rushed for 61yards and one touchdown while Chase Lane picked up 60 more on the ground to keep the Friars on their heels.
Bishop Dunne got on the board first against the Panthers, scoring a first-quarter touchdown but in the second period, the Panthers scored on three straight drives and then the defense got involved to give them a 28-7 lead at the half.
Gunnell threw a 17-yard scoring pass to senior wide receiver Jacob Jefferson, who returned the lineup after missing a couple of games with an injury, to get their scoring started. Gunnell finished off their next possession with a one-yard touchdown run and minutes later, tailback Kaleb Ducros ran two yards for another score and a 21-7 Panther advantage.
Then just before the half, defensive back Brice Vooletich picked off a Dunne pass and returned it 21 yards to paydirt, putting the team from Shepherd Drive up by three scores.
The teams exchanged scores in the third period with Gunnell scoring again from a yard out and the Panthers led 35-14 to begin the fourth period. The Friars scored twice to close the gap to a touchdown and were driving late in the game before the Panther defense kept them out of the end zone to preserve the win and keep their state championship hopes alive. Jefferson finished the game with exactly 100 yards receiving to lead the pass catchers.
St. Pius X now stands 10-1 on the season.