With the undisputed heavyweight in Class 3A facing an explosive Pillow Academy team, fireworks were surely expected.
And that’s just what the capacity crowd in Greenville Friday night got. By the time the dust settled, the state’s longest active winning streak was still alive.
Thanks to a pair of costly late turnovers by the Mustangs, the Fighting Irish defeated PA 50-41 as St. Joe rolled up 595 yards to move to 8-0.
Pillow led 33-28 in the third quarter, but the Fighting Irish reeled off three touchdowns on their final 10 plays to pull away late. The Mustangs scored late to pull within nine, but it was all but over by then.
Before its final touchdown, which came on the final play of the contest — an 11-yard toss from Shane Houston Stephens to Alex Lindsey, the Mustangs had a pair of interceptions, a punt and turned the ball over on downs.
The Mustang defense, which came in allowing just 14 points per game, had no answers at all for the dynamic duo of Trey Benson and Dillon Johnson. PA lost its leading tackler, senior linebacker Sam Harris, to a foot injury in the first quarter and never returned.
“Our kids played hard, and we made some really good plays at times,” PA coach Tripp McCarty said. “But those backs are the real deal.”
PA finished with 449 total yards, with 291 coming through the air. Stephens, a senior quarterback, didn’t have his best outing but still completed 19 of 36 passes for three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Senior Jaden Simcox led all receivers with 134 yards on six catches.
Junior Christian Belk carried the work load on the ground, picking up a team-high 73 yards and a touchdown on 14 rushes. Lindsey scored a rushing and receiving touchdowns.
Defensively, senior linebacker Jacob Bush led the charge with 11 tackles, including two stops for a loss. Junior linebacker Lawes McCool was next with 10.
In the first half, the PA defense stopped the Irish on fourth-and-10 on their first possession and then used a short field to take an 8-0 lead.
Belk rambled into the end zone from six yards out, and Stephens hit Reichle with the two-point pass.
St. Joe then responded with a 61-yard TD drive to pull within two. PA quickly answered, though, with a 11-yard scoring scamper from Lindsey.
After the Irish tied the game at 14 in the second, the Mustangs put together an 81-yard TD drive for a 20-14 edge at the half.
The two teams were almost dead even through the first two quarters, with the Irish holding a slim 229-220 advantage in total yardage.
Pillow will close out the regular season with back-to-back District 1-5A contests, next week at home against Magnolia Heights and then Oct. 25 at Bayou Academy in Cleveland.