Southside Christian defeated No. 2 St. Joseph’s on Friday. (Richard Shiro photo)
GREENVILLE – A pair of heartbreaking non-region losses helped sharpen Southside Christian for a most satisfying Region I-1A opening win Friday night. The satisfaction level was boosted by avenging another heartbreaking loss, one that ended the Sabres hopes of a third consecutive state championship last season.
Southside Christian became the first team this year to contain St. Joseph’s triple-option rushing attack, and finally found some running yards of its own, as the Sabres defeated the No. 2-ranked Knights, 35-14. The victory comes 10 months after Southside Christian saw a 21-0 second half lead disappear in a 29-28 overtime home loss to St. Joseph’s in round two of the Class A playoffs.
After taking a 21-14 lead into halftime, Southside Christian’s defense allowed 86 total yards the rest of the night to power its second half shutout. St. Joseph’s (5-1, 1-1), which entered averaging 303.6 yards rushing per game, had 221 yards on 42 attempts Friday.
“Option football’s really hard to stop and they (St. Joseph’s) are so well-coached. They make it really hard on you,” Sabres coach Mike Sonneborn said. “I was proud of our guys. They did a really good job. When you play (against) option football, they’re going to get one or two on you but we did a good job overall.
“We hit some big plays on offense when we needed to as well.”
Friday’s atmosphere at St. Joseph’s had a big-game feel and a big-game look in the opening half. The 5:37 mark of the first half marked one of the only times Southside Christian (2-2, 1-0) bit wrong on an option. Once St. Joseph’s quarterback Cade Alt tucked the ball after faking a pitch he had a clear path to the end zone. Alt’s 45-yard touchdown helped the Knights take a 14-13 lead.
The teams exchanged punts, then exchanged interceptions. Josh Hennum’s pick gave Southside Christian the ball at its own 34 with less than a minute remaining in the half.
Sabres’ senior quarterback Paul Cobin hit Ethan Chandler for a gain of 15 and Zachary Brewster for 18. Two plays later, Cobin threw a screen pass over the middle to running back Silas Robertson. Robertson bobbed and weaved his way to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown with just 4.9 seconds left in the half.
“I could’ve taken it out of bounds (to stop the clock) if I needed to, but I just kept going and made it to the end zone,” Robertson said. “I saw my blockers and took off.”
Cobin pass to Brewster for the two-point conversion gave Southside Christian a 21-14 lead at the half. What turned out to be the play of the game was a perfect call that was perfectly executed with St. Joseph’s blitzing. If Robertson had been tackled, Southside Christian had one timeout left to still have a chance at scoring before the half.
One key aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked in that score was Elliot Secoy’s field position-changing punt when the teams exchanged punts after Alt’s score. His 66-yard effort was downed at the St. Joseph’s four-yard line.
“He’s a soccer guy. Those guys have big legs. It was a windy night, so I’m sure that helped but it really did flip the field,” Sonneborn said of the punt. “The touchdown was a big momentum swing. You might be going in (to halftime) down one, so going up seven is a big deal.”
Friday marked the second time this year that Southside Christian took a lead into halftime against a highly-ranked opponent. Three weeks earlier, the Sabres led Abbeville 21-6 in the fourth quarter before falling 22-21. The biggest reason Southside Christian couldn’t close out a win that night was the fact that Abbeville held the Sabres to minus-18 yards rushing. In a two-point loss at Georgia traditional power Commerce to open the season, Southside Christian was held to 39 yards rushing on 25 carries.
While the Sabres didn’t exactly turn into Oklahoma in the 1980s Friday night, they did put up 114 ground yards including 92 in the second half. Forty of those 92 came with 7:48 left in the game when Lucas McKinney ran for a touchdown to push the lead to 28-14. That was Southside Christian’s third rushing touchdown of the night.
That scoring drive was set up by Southside Christian’s defense. St. Joseph’s had a second-and-five at the Sabres’ 24-yard line to start the fourth quarter. The next two plays were option pitches that resulted in losses of seven and five yards, respectively. The Knights’ fourth-and-17 heave to the end zone fell harmlessly to the ground incomplete.
After McKinney’s score, Southside Christian sealed the win on its next possession. On third-and-10, Kolby Sentelle caught a wide receiver screen from Cobin near the left sideline and turned it upfield for a 55-yard touchdown.
“I’m so happy for our kids. We played such a tough two first games – a top-ranked team in Georgia and then Abbeville, who we lose to in the last 20 seconds of the game,” Sonneborn said. “We’re a good football team. I told our guys we play those games for nights like tonight.”
Cobin finished with 195 yards on 9-of-14 passing with two touchdowns and one interception. In addition to his big touchdown catch before halftime, Robertson had a 10-yard touchdown run for Southside Christian’s first score. He finished with 33 yards rushing on five carries.
Lucas Salgado had 74 yards rushing on six carries to lead St. Joseph’s. Brayden Johnson, the Knights’ leading rusher this season, was held to 35 yards on 14 carries.