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X-factor

THE X-FACTOR

2016 FINALE

 

 


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“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power,
of love, and of self-discipline.”

~2 Timothy 1:7~

So much for the so called laws of fleeting worldly power … We got something else, something better. 

No Saint Pius X Golden Lion football season ends without at least one signature moment, some  searing, enduring, indelible image stamped on all our memories of what campaign meant.

One of them came Friday, November 11, 2016 against Ridgeland.  It was hardly 2016’s first, and arguably not even the greatest, but the timing – coming when it did – well, that was …

First, the setup.

In a season filled with mirror images, this was a game marked by two completely different halves – one in which the offenses flashed and a second dominated by defense.

After the Lions stalled on their opening drive, the Ridgeland Panthers snagged the early lead with a sporty, 75-yard drive.  Jayln Shelton (222 yards rushing for the game) bedeviled us just like he’d done everyone else this season.  But after a fantastic kickoff return by #9 senior Henry Penter, the Lions got right back in it thanks to a 64-yard blast up the middle by #33 senior fullback Bobby Campbell.  The HAWGS – #69 senior Bennett Hardee, #68 sophomore Connor Brown, #54 senior Blake Harrison, #72 senior Brady Winski, and (wearing Will Ver Meulen’s #79) senior Anthony Thomas – blasted a hole like one of those passes through the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains, and Campbell got to show off his speed as he outran the Panther secondary all the way to the one-yard line.  #24 Matt Spear then ran it in to knot the game at 7-7.

Then Golden Lion special-team play made an even bigger difference.  Splendid coverage on the ensuing kickoff led to a fumble recovered by #2 junior Scott Braswell.  And two plays later it was #33 Campbell again – having his biggest game just when it was most needed – blasting all the way to the end zone.  Reliable #93 senior Will Possert handled the point after, and the Lions had a 14-7 lead as the first quarter expired.

Shelton, though, wasn’t about to let things get out of hand.  On the Panthers’ next series he bolted 56 yards to even things up. 

But the Lions charged right back – almost.  #18 sophomore quarterback Connor Egan converted on second-and-21 by hitting #34 sophomore Michael Benefield with a dart deep downfield.  A few plays later, it was #33 Campbell yet again plowing through Panther defenders and streaking down the sideline, but before the play could end a Panther defender alertly punched the ball from Campbell’s grasp, snatched it up, and returned it 20-yards the other way.

The Panthers then conducted a 15-play drive, consuming almost the entire rest of the second quarter, and ending with the go-ahead touchdown, which, as it happens, turned out to be the final score of the game and of this Lion season …

What the second half lacked in points it made up in drama – and right from the get-go.  There was a foreboding on the Lion side going into the second half.  Ridgeland would start with the ball; another Panther score might nearly seal our fate; and we had not yet shown any ability to slow down Mr. Shelton and the rest of that offense.

But as he’s done so often and for so many years, Defensive Coordinator Jerry Stewart prescribed some adjustments, and his latest charges – the marvelous talents he’s nurtured, taught, and trained – one of his best units ever, in fact – implemented to a “t”; plus “u” through “z” just for good measure.

Shelton threatened early on the first second-half drive, and a penalty didn’t help either, as the Panthers got to the Lion red zone.  But there #52 junior Marco Dinkins began turning things around with a tackle for loss.  Then #20 senior cornerback Michael Caragher broke up a pass, and that marvelous SPX defensive front – the likes of Dinkins, #69 Hardee, #59 senior London Lewis, #51 senior Reid Geheren, #82 senior Charlie Mackey – stuffed Shelton on third down.  That forced the Panthers to line up for a field goal.  They ran a fake, but these Lions were now too experienced and mature to be having any of it.  Playing sound, disciplined football, they shut the play down and took over possession.

When the Golden Lion defense returned, the situation was the same.  Same score.  Same desperate need for another defensive stop.  And now you figure this defense had to be growing tired.  But no matter.  Once again the Panthers put a scare in us to start – a successful halfback pass bringing Ridgeland again to our red zone with a chance to pretty much seal the deal.  But the ensuing first down saw a tackle for loss by #51 Geheren.  And three plays later, on what amounted to fourth-and-our-season, #6 senior Olin Broadway and #29 junior D.J. Mitchell brought Shelton down to keep us in it.

Another stalled Lion drive had the defense returning again, sooner than we would have liked – fatiguing now becoming very much a factor as we approached the final stanza.  The Panthers surged again into the Lion red zone, and now we were past foreboding; it was panic time.  How likely, really, was yet another red zone stand against this excellent Ridgeland attack?

Another tackle for loss, earned collectively by that extraordinary SPX front line, followed by a stuffed attempt to run up the middle (that line again), then two pass break-ups by sophomore Jason Jones – and Ridgeland was turned back a third time.

And then, incredibly enough, they did it a fourth time.  The Lions went three and out.  Their defense returned.  The Panthers got a quick, big play and seemed poised to wrap things up.  But no.  Broadway and Caragher stuffed a first-down carry.  Two more runs failed to get much, and Ridgeland had to punt.

So … would you believe they could do it a fifth time?  No matter how hearty a fan you are – no matter how much you’d come to love and trust this defense – you really couldn’t love their chances of withstanding yet another Panther thrust.  Not this late.  Not after they’d already done so much. 

But Coach Standard did.  When the Lions got stopped on their next possession, Coach Standard faced a tough choice:  punt – and rely on the defense to get the ball back almost immediately – or, instead, risk it all on fourth-and-long.   Time was running out.  Could St. Pius dare rely on that tired defense for yet another stop?   A quick stop, it would have to be, because just a few first downs would let Ridgeland run out the clock.

We punted.  The Panthers moved the ball quickly at first.  But then #59 Lewis stifled a first-down carry.   Geheren threw Shelton back for another tackle-for-loss.  The Lions bottled up a Shelton sweep on third down, and the entire defense stood fast against a fourth-down hard count aimed at drawing them offside.  Ridgeland had to give it back.  For one, final stupendous time, this 2016 Golden Lion defense had shown us … What?

Talent.  Character.  Resilience.  Fortitude.  Determination. 

The offense returned for a last, wild, hopeful, and even – dare we say it? – joyful attempt to extend this wonderful, surprising season a bit longer.  An interference call gave the Lions a quick first down.  Then Egan hit #3 – Holy Cross-bound senior Grant Holloman – for a big gain, with #54 Harrison hustling downfield to clear the path.  Egan hit #9 Penter to get into Ridgeland territory and the Lions were in position for a final deep chuck downfield with the clock running out.

And then it happened, that moment we were talking about.  Egan chucked it.  Ridgeland covered well and intercepted.  So be it.  That’s how these plays tend to go.  But suddenly we were looking at the Ridgeland defender streaking to the end zone for a cherry-on-top touchdown.

There was nothing left to play for, really.  The clock was basically run out.  It was time to throw the helmet down and sink to the field.  Unless, that is, you’re a Golden Lion.  And, especially, unless you’re #72 Brady Winski.

Winski never should have been on the field.  He’s too small.  He definitely shouldn’t have been a starter.  And to be a starting HAWG – and not just this year but for several games as a junior?  Unthinkable. 

Just as unthinkable as rising up after that hope-crushing interception and – with nothing left to play for, nothing but LION PRIDE – chasing down the return man before he got to the end zone and bringing him down.

It was our final play, and it was emblematic.

The “cold hard facts” will not show how great a season this was.  The record won’t reveal it.  Nor the stats.  It’s not the kind of greatness you can put on a t-shirt.

But greatness it was and is.  The 2016 Lions had every chance and reason to drop their heads, slump their shoulders, point their fingers.  Many times they could have quit.  But if you watched, you know they never, ever did.  They fought every single down, from first quarter to fourth.  From preseason scrimmage to playoffs.  From scintillating victories and near-victories to the darkest moments of some painful defeats.

Read the interviews with Z.  Every week, to a man, the seniors kept looking ahead, trusting the coaches, working the system, believing that if they did their jobs, honored their calling, things would work out.

And things did work out, no matter how it might look today or to someone on the outside.  We who’ve followed this team – this senior class – know full well what really matters.  And that’s this.  We know that if ever you need a young man to be part of a team, to get a job done, to help lead, to accomplish something big – if you need someone who knows how to strive, how to persist, how to persevere, endure, and succeed – then you need someone from the Golden Lion Football Class of 2016-17. 

They honored the Tradition.  They carried it forward in a very special way.  Our hats are off.

And so we say, this Thanksgiving season, to this exemplary group of men …

Thank You‼

 

and, one more time …


 

GO LIONS‼

 GO LIONS