ST. PAULS — With a tough stretch of games to close the regular season, the St. Pauls football team knew it didn’t need a letdown against East Columbus on Thursday night if it wanted to stay in the hunt for a Three Rivers Conference championship.
So the Bulldogs did what they’ve done all season, dominated with a potent rushing attack and attacking defense en route to earning a 55-0 rout of the Gators to remain unbeaten in conference play.
“It wasn’t about trying to embarrass anybody, we just wanted to come out and execute,” St. Pauls coach Ernest King said. “We worry about playing as a unit, executing and giving maximum effort. That’s what we did.”
With their fourth straight win, the Bulldogs (5-2, 3-0 TRC) sit in a three-way tie atop the conference standings with Fairmont and South Columbus. They’ll face both teams — in addition to Whiteville next week — in the final four-game stretch.
“The next few weeks are big for us,” King said. “We’re right where we want to be — in the conference championship hunt. We have Whiteville first and it’s a one-team-at-a-time approach.”
St. Pauls running back Chris Graham and dual-threat quarterback Noah Wheeler continued their impressive seasons, accounting for six of the team’s seven touchdowns in the win over the Gators (0-7, 0-3 TRC).
Graham finished with 210 yards on 19 carries and had three touchdowns, scoring on runs of six, eight and nine yards. Wheeler accounted for four touchdowns, rushing for three and throwing for another, racking up 150 total yards.
The Bulldogs came out strong, scoring 21 points each in the first and second quarters to take a 42-0 lead into halftime.
Caleb Inman broke a scoreless tie on St. Pauls’ first possession, scoring on a 26-yard run. Cole Humphrey found Dakota Oxendine in the back of the end zone on the 2-point conversion to give the Bulldogs an 8-0 lead.
Graham and Wheeler followed with rushing scores of their own to give St. Pauls a 21-0 lead after one. Oxendine hauled in the only touchdown pass of the game on an 11-yarder from Wheeler midway through the second quarter. He finished with five catches for 78 yards.
Graham scored the lone touchdown of the third quarter and Wheeler capped the scoring with a 10-yard run in the final minute of the game.
In a dominant defensive effort, St. Pauls earned its first shutout since last season’s 39-0 win over the Gators. The Bulldogs held East Columbus to 66 total yards. Ernest “Tre” King III and Dayshawn Ray led the relentless defensive rush, finishing with four tackles each, with Ray earning a pair of sacks. Chris Ray Jr. also had a sack.
For King, the next few weeks are about “being disciplined” as a group in the quest for a conference title.
“If we’re disciplined and we execute what we do, I don’t worry about the scoreboard,” he said. “We don’t want to waste any reps (in practice). If we continue to do that, we’ll be where we need to be in the hunt. We have to execute, believe in one another and stay together as a family.”