FAIRMONT — It was a game with a score a lot closer than most people expected. So when St. Pauls walked off the field at Hal S. Floyd Stadium Friday, it did so with a sense of relief after a 28-18 win over Fairmont.
“I thought (Fairmont coach Lonnie Cox) executed a good game plan and I thought his kids believed in him tonight,” St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. “It really put us in a game that we didn’t want to be in tonight. I’m proud of our kids because our kids were able to hunker down and say, ‘OK, now we’ve got to play.’ I felt like we outplayed them, but I thought Fairmont definitely had more heart in it tonight.”
St. Pauls (7-0, 5-0 Southeastern Athletic Conference) never trailed, but didn’t put the game away until a late turnover-to-touchdown sequence.
With the Bulldogs up 22-18, Fairmont (2-6, 2-3 Southeastern) forced a St. Pauls punt and the Golden Tornaodes took over at their own 41-yard line with 7:33 to go. After a roughing-the-punter penalty on fourth down kept the Fairmont drive alive, St. Pauls’ Javier Ortiz intercepted a pass with 6:15 to go.
“I feel like I’m hungrier than everybody else, I want it more,” Ortiz said. “I told coach I was going to make a play; I made an interception that put the game away.”
After converting a third down to extend the drive with a 12-yard run, Kemarion Baldwin scored from 43 yards on the next play to put the Bulldogs up two possessions with 3:23 remaining.
“I was just trying to get what I can get and run that clock out,” said Baldwin, who ran for 144 yards and three touchdowns. “I just saw that crease; No. 30, Trejon (McBryde), he gave me a great block on the outside, and I took it to the crib.”
While the Golden Tornadoes came out on the losing end on the scoreboard, Cox said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“Nobody who ever gave their best regretted it, and our kids gave their very best tonight, and I believe that they left every bit of sweat, every bit of blood, every bit of tears on the field,” Cox said. “I’m proud of their effort tonight, and I hope this shows them that what we’ve been doing is paying off, and that our program is moving forward in a very positive direction.”
Mikail Breeden was 9-for-17 passing for 159 yards and a touchdown for St. Pauls; Eddrick James had two catches for 58 yards.
Cameron Sweat completed 13 passes for 143 yards for the Golden Tornadoes, while rushing for a team-high 72 yards. Sweat’s 13 rushing attempts — along with four for Demarcus Grissett, who also had three receptions — were new looks for the Fairmont offense.
“We’ve continued to develop on offense throughout the whole season and we’re going to continue to evolve,” Cox said.
After St. Pauls scored first, with a 4-yard Baldwin run on its second drive, the Tornadoes answered with a 10-play, 65-yard drive culminating with a 5-yard Sweat touchdown run to make it 6-6, which remained the score after a quarter.
St. Pauls took a 14-6 lead after a 2-yard Baldwin run, plus a Breeden conversion, three plays into the second quarter. Two Tornado drives later, Fairmont scored on a 3-yard Derrick Baker run with 1:31 left in the half to pull to a 14-12 margin at the break.
“At halftime, sometimes you’re in a game that you don’t want to be in, but our kids understanding that, hey, we’re going to have to listen, we’re going to have to understand that to get out of this game we’re going to have to play our way of football,” Setzer said. “We typically do good when we can impose our will, so we knew it was important to impose our will.”
St. Pauls created some separation when Breeden found Ortiz for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 4:14 left in the third. Breeden ran in the two-point try to give the Bulldogs a two-possession lead at 22-12.
“I felt the relief on the sideline (after the touchdown); everybody wasn’t so tight anymore,” Ortiz said. “I feel like I’m the guy that everybody looks at like, if he overreacts then we’re going to overreact. But I came to the sideline, I scored and kept my cool, and told them the game wasn’t over. We still had time left on the clock. The game’s never over until there’s triple zeroes.”
Fairmont answered two drives later when Grissett scored on a 9-yard run with 9:52 left; Fairmont trailed 22-18 after an unsuccessful two-point try. St. Pauls punted on the ensuing drive, just before Ortiz’ interception.
“St. Pauls was resilient tonight, and I know that Coach Setzer instills resiliency in them every single day,” Cox said. “Huge credit to them for continuing to fight and coming out on top tonight. Obviously we’re disappointed that we didn’t come out on top, but they deserve a lot of credit for being resilient and winning this football game.”
St. Pauls clinched at least a share of the Southeastern title, and the league’s top playoff seed, ahead of next week’s regular-season finale against Red Springs.
‘I’m happy about clinching a piece, but we’ve got to go ahead take care of business — I don’t like sharing stuff,” Setzer said.
Fairmont plays at Midway next week, with a win likely to give the Tornadoes an at-large berth in the 2A state playoffs.
“When we go to Midway next Friday night, and we earn that win, we’re going back to the playoffs, and all the hard times that we had to go through this year, all the tough losses that we’ve had to endure, it’s all going to be worth it when we show up to the dance and play,” Cox said. “And I’ve always believed, if you can make it to the dance you can always dance with the prettiest girl — and I think that we danced with one of the pretty girls tonight.”