Five first-half turnovers - four that led to touchdowns, including a pair of returns directly to the end zone - gave Episcopal plenty of cushion Friday night in a Class 2A bidistrict playoff game against Springfield.
After that, the seventh-seeded Knights coasted and survived a brief hiccup, blazing to a 42-13 triumph and a second-round matchup back at home against Loreauville next week.
Chris Alexander anchored an opportunistic Episcopal defense with an interception and a 50-yard fumble return when he yanked the ball out of runner’s arms after an option pitch.
That was part of a 35-0 first-half blitz when the Bulldogs (5-6) had as many turnovers as first downs.
Springfield dug a deep hole from the game’s first snap, when a botched quarterback-center exchange turned into a fumble that Episcopal’s Mike Henry smothered at the 12-yard-line.
Henry cashed in on the gaffe four plays later with a 2-yard blast into the end zone, the first of his two touchdowns, and Episcopal (10-1) was off and running.
“This is a sophomore-driven team, and I think we were a little star-struck about being in the playoffs,” Bulldogs’ coach Ryan Serpas said. “I wish we could’ve had different circumstances than giving the ball away on the first play.”
From there, Alexander and the Knights defense stole the show.
On Springfield’s second possession, Serpas called a halfback option pass from Tanner Wild that Alexander picked off. Two plays after that, Garrett Simpson bulled through a right-side hole for a 47-yard touchdown run.
Alexander victimized Wild again early in the second quarter when he swiped the ball and went 50 yards the other direction for a 21-0 lead.
Nick Russell duplicated Alexander’s feat moments later, to cap an exchange of turnovers after Episcopal quarterback Vincent Dellocono darted 47 yards on a punt return.
With Springfield at its own 29, quarterback Shaquille Smith kept on an option to the right and was trying to grind out extra yards when Russell took the ball away and dashed 34 yards for another TD.
“Springfield gave us a couple of gifts and we were able to cash in,” EHS coach Travis Bourgeois said. “Any time you play a team that runs the option like they do, it’s hard to prepare, but we forced some turnovers and took them out of their game a little bit. I thought we did a good job taking care of business.”
The Knights’ final score of the first half was the product of their best offensive series of the opening 24 minutes.
With Jarrell Rogers and Henry taking turns, Episcopal chipped away. On second-and-goal from the 13 after a penalty, Henry crashed through the right side and through a pair of would-be tacklers for a touchdown.
The five-touchdown cushion gave Bourgeois a chance to empty his bench, but the Bulldogs kept plugging away.
Springfield’s defense dug deep and kept the Knights from scoring on their first two series after halftime - Smith recovered a fumble, and the Bulldogs stuffed Henry on a fourth-and-3 toss play.
Sparked by Sam Jones’ 23-yard gallop on a fake punt, Springfield drove 61 yards and jumped on the scoreboard on Gharmaine Alston’s 19-yard touchdown blast.
Smith wiggled loose for a 27-yard TD run on an option play early in the final period to close the gap to 35-13, and Springfield got the ball back when it recovered an onside kick.
But the Bulldogs came up shot on fourth down, and the Knights capitalize when Julien Darden zig-zagged 63 yards on the first snap for the final score.
“We had some opportunities in the second half, and we took advantage of them,” Serpas said. “We got comfortable and ran our offense, but we just couldn’t throw the ball and that made us too one-dimensional.”
Alston supplied most of that dimension with 30 carries for 139 yards to anchor the Bulldogs’ 231-yard night on the ground.
Henry has 85 for EHS before his night ended early.