ROWLAND —St. Pauls football coach Ernest King has a saying for his program to make sure it doesn’t overlook his competition, and Friday night his team went away from the mantra.
“The concept we use is: if you shoot an elephant with an elephant gun, then you shoot the ant with that same gun,” King said. “When it’s all said and done, you don’t underestimate anybody and you play to the best of your ability at all times.”
The Bulldogs left the “elephant gun” at home as South Robeson hung around for the first three quarters before St. Pauls pulled out the 40-12 Three Rivers Conference win on the road.
In a turnover-filled contest due to wet conditions, both teams were hit will ill-advised turnovers. In total, there were five lost fumbles, with South Robeson losing three that proved to be costly.
After St. Pauls (4-2) went up 6-0 early in the first quarter, the Mustangs (0-6) fumbled the kickoff and the Bulldogs recovered and made them pay quickly. On the first play following the change of possession, St. Pauls found the endzone as quarterback Noah Wheeler hit Michael Barnes for a 27-yard pass to push the lead to 12-0.
Right before the end of the quarter, South Robeson recovered a St. Pauls turnover in Bulldogs territory and drove to the four-yard line before it lost another fumble to end the prime scoring chance.
“We should’ve had three more (touchdowns),” said South Robeson coach Clay Jernigan. “We got down close and had mental mistakes, with us being young and they’re learning the hard way.”
“What we’re telling the guys is when you’re playing on a wet field and the conditions are the way they are, that’s when you’ve got to protect the ball the most,” King said. “They tackled the football and they did a great job of doing what they do. You can tell that they practice it.”
With an awkward week of practice with the weather, St. Pauls seemed out of sorts on both sides of the ball and put up 18 points in the first half to go up 18-6 heading into halftime. Wheeler connected with Cole Humphrey for an 16-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter and Chris Graham rushed for a 35-yard touchdown on the Bulldogs’ opening drive.
“We didn’t have a great week of practice because of the rain and it threw us off,” King said, “but that’s no excuse for coming out here and protecting the football and not missing tackles. … I expected more out of our guys. Like I told them, the score does not show all the mistakes that we turned around and made.”
After both teams were held scoreless in the third quarter, Wheeler called his own number for a short touchdown run two plays into the fourth quarter to make it a 26-6 ballgame. Graham tacked on his second touchdown of the night from 21 yards out to give the Bulldogs its biggest lead of the night at 34-6 with 8:57 left.
During the third quarter, South Robeson had one offensive possession with seven plays and took four minutes off the clock.
“One big thing that hurt us was in the third quarter we had the ball one time,” Jernigan said. “We’re more of a ball control offense. If we got some first downs we could a little better field position and we could do a little more stuff.”
Tyric Hunt scored South Robeson’s second touchdown of the night on a three-yard run to cut the lead to 34-12 before St. Pauls scored on the game’s final play with a 70-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Dakota Oxendine.
Wheeler went 10-for-17 passing for 131 yards and 70 yards rushing for three total touchdowns. Chris Graham totaled 123 yards rushing with his pair of scores.
For South Robeson, Emmanuel Thompson rushed for 81 yards, while freshman quarterback Tyler Locklear went 3-for-8 passing with a touchdown to Darrius Brown in the second quarter.
St. Pauls and South Robeson play at home next Friday. The Bulldogs host East Columbus and the Mustangs have South Columbus.
Red Springs rebounds with road win
LAKE WACCAMAW — After dropping its conference opener last week, Red Springs got back on track for the TRC title chase with a 50-18 win on the road at East Columbus.
Battling tight with the Gators in the first half, the Red Devils (4-2) stretched a 16-12 lead after the first quarter out to 30-18 at halftime.
Nichorie West accounted for two touchdowns on the night, his first coming for an 80-yard return on the opening kickoff. Senior quarterback Toddrick Lockhart had four passing touchdown with two going to Wade Monroe, and one apiece to Tony Colson Jr., and Michael Govan. Marquis Ray added another touchdown on the ground.
Red Springs hosts Whiteville next Friday.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.