ST. AMANT — Catholic High has a reputation for pulling off trick plays, and the Bears scored on one. But eighth-ranked Catholic had no answer for the ace St. Amant High head coach David Oliver had up his sleeve.
“The Pit Crew defense … they did it,” Oliver said. “If the other team can’t score, they can’t win. Other than the trick play, those guys did a heckuva job. They were the difference, and they have been all year.”
St. Amant forced three turnovers and allowed just 36 yards rushing, making a powerful statement with a 21-14 victory over Catholic in a District 5-5A opener played Friday night at the Pit.
The unbeaten Gators (6-0, 1-0) held Catholic (4-2, 0-1) to just 183 yards before the Bears’ final drive. K.J. Franklin’s interception of a Cameron Dartez pass with 6.8 seconds left inside the Gator 20 sealed the win for 10th-ranked SAHS.
Franklin’s interception came one play after linebacker Colton King sacked Dartez. King was at the heart of a St. Amant defense that stopped most Catholic running plays near the line of scrimmage.
“We knew we had to stop the run and make them one-dimensional,” King said. “If we forced them to pass the ball more than they wanted to, we would have the advantage.”
The SAHS win snapped a three-game winning streak for Catholic in the series.
Quarterback Halen Miller led the St. Amant offense with 94 rushing yards on 11 carries and 165 yards on 17-of-26 passing. Dartez was 21 of 30 for 180 yards for Catholic but was limited to just 14 yards rushing.
Patrick Mensah scored Catholic’s first TD on a 51-yard punt return in the third quarter. A 42-yard halfback TD pass from Gregory Martin to Vernon Langley got the Bears within one score with 6:17 remaining, but they could not deliver another big play.
“St. Amant took away a lot of things we want to do, and that was huge,” Catholic coach Gabe Fertitta said. “Coach (Dwayne) Thomassee (SAHS defensive coordinator) had the right scheme. They came out with a lot more energy than we did in the first half, and that’s something we’ll have to address.”
A new wrinkle not only kept the Catholic defense honest but also fueled the St. Amant offense, starting on the Gators’ first possession. The Bears were locked in on running back Cade Nelson. Miller faked a handoff to Nelson on St. Amant’s second offensive play and dashed 45 yards to the Catholic 25.
After Miller’s 21-yard pass to Grant Alexander, the Gators handed the ball to Nelson four times. He scored on a 1-yard run with 7:18 to go in the first quarter. Miller’s 9-yard TD run in the second quarter capped a 69-yard, 10-play drive and gave SAHS a 14-0 halftime lead.
St. Amant stifled the Catholic offense throughout the first half. The Bears had just 67 first-half yards, compared to 202 for the Gators. Catholic's best field position came on Mensah's 62-yard kickoff return that took the ball to the SAHS 25, but Ben Parker recovered a fumble to end the drive one play later.
After Mensah’s third-quarter TD return, Miller answered for St. Amant with a 32-yard scoring pass to Grant Alexander with 10:05 left to make it 21-7.
“This is the best feeling,” Miller said.