by Andrew McCulloch and Aaron Reiss
The Eagles entered Friday night’s showdown against St. Pius with both the district championship and a number one seed in the state playoffs on the line.
The team rose to the occasion, defeating the Panthers 27-6 on senior night.
Pius looked like they could run away with the lead as quarterback Kohl Stewart helped his team storm down the field on their opening drive. However, the momentum swung in the favor of St. Thomas after the Pius offense was stopped on fourth and goal at the one yard-line.
But after the defensive stop, the Eagle offense sputtered out of the gate and struggled on throughout the first half, in part due to injury. Starting running back Christopher Zook left the game early on with a mild concussion and did not return.
But junior running back Andre Pradia led the team on a lengthy drive capped off with a 38 yard field goal by kicker Jack Brady.
The Panthers drove deep into St. Thomas territory again late in the second quarter and were forced to attempt a long field goal after a stop by the Eagle defense. A surge of Eagles through the middle of the offensive line blocked the kick and prevented another score.
Quarterback Michael Reul hurried the offense downfield to set up another Jack Brady field goal with 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The Eagles carried a 6-0 lead into halftime.
The Eagles started the third quarter slow, until senior outside linebacker C.J. Seeman intercepted a Stewart pass inside the Pius nine yard-line that set up a nine yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Pearson Garnett with 5:32 remaining in the quarter.
“That [interception] was game-changing,” senior defensive end Parker White said. “It took away all the momentum and [any] chance they had at a comeback.”
At the start of the fourth quarter the Eagles were up 13-0.
Aftering Garnett ran it in for two touchdowns on the Eagles’ first two drives of the quarter, the Eagles led 27-0 with 8:48 left in the game. The Panthers made a last-ditch effort to come back, but Stewart threw deep pass that was intercepted by freshman David Jones.
The lone St. Pius score came on a 14 yard touchdown pass after Stewart had left the game with two minutes left in regulation.
The stingy Eagle defense held the Panthers to a lowly 77 yards rushing, half of their average rushing yards per game.
“We all did our jobs,” senior defensive tackle Reidy said. “When we all do our jobs great things happen.”
Stewart threw for 76 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. It was only the second time in his high school career that Stewart was held under 100 yards passing, the other time being against the Eagles earlier this season.
“Our secondary really got on top of it this week, making sure their were no gaps in coverage,” White said. “The defensive line was all over Kohl.”
Pradia’s 128 yards rushing for the Eagles were a season high.
The Eagles won their first district title since 2005 and clinched a top seed in the TAPPS state playoffs.
The team will play their first round game next week at Granger Stadium against either St. Anthony of San Antonio or John Paul II of Corpus Christi.
Although the district crown and number one seed are nice, the Eagles are focused on what is ahead – the TAPPS state playoffs.
“[We] need to just take it one game at a time,” Reidy said. “We can’t take anyone lightly.”