ST PAULS — After a competitive start, injuries to key players devastated the St. Pauls offense, leading to a 26-8 loss to Douglas Byrd in the Bulldogs’ home opener.
After St. Pauls recovered a fumble on the Eagles’ opening drive to set up the Bulldogs in excellent field position, quarterback Cody McKenna found James Patterson in the open for a 37-yard score. McKenna then rolled in for the 2-point conversion on a keeper.
As head coach Trey Sasser noted afer the game, the Bulldogs were clearly a different team than the one that struggled the previous week on the road against Grays Creek. St. Pauls was playing with much greater energy.
Both teams made mental mistakes in the early going, with repeated turnovers and penalties. But through most of the first quarter the score remained close.
Then the team lost one its top receivers, Tim Billinger, who left with an injury. A few plays later, McKenna left the game with an injury. Both later reappeared on the sidelines but didn’t go back into the game.
Back up quarterback Jackson put forth a strong effort to replace McKenna, but the offensive system never functioned well after that.
With the defense left on the field for much of the remainder of the game, the Eagles won a slow grind, constantly running the ball until they broke through. Despite several strong defensive stands, the Bulldogs couldn’t keep them off the boards.
Even so, with the game already decided in the final minute, a defiant Bulldog defense posted one last goal-line stand to deny the Eagles on fourth down and goal. It didn’t change the outcome of the game, but it show a team that was destined to lose, but not about to be beaten.
Sasser said afterward that he was unhappy not so much because of the score but because of his concern about McKenna and Billinger, whose status for future play will be evaluated next week.
He said that his offense lost its leader and simply couldn’t recover afterward.
St. Pauls (0-2) plays next week at home against East Bladen.
Reach Frank Taylor at 910-816-1977 or email him at [email protected]