Apr. 17—ST. PAULS — KeMarion Baldwin had already run for over 200 yards late when the St. Pauls running back was injured late in the third quarter of Friday's 2AA first-round state playoff game against Randleman.
It was time for Demonte Williams — often overlooked, sharing the backfield with Marquiese Coleman last year and now Baldwin — to step up.
The senior ran for 56 yards and two touchdowns over the last 15 minutes of the game after Baldwin's injury, helping seal the Bulldogs' 35-9 win over the Tigers.
"It's a really good 1-2 punch," St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. "(Williams) had some really good runs, and that's what we're going to need in the playoffs, you're going to have to have everybody chip in, everybody's going to have to be able to do anything. That's what we're going to do, and that's what we preach."
Williams ran the next three plays after Baldwin's injury, gaining the final 23 yards of a scoring drive including the 4-yard touchdown run, for a 28-9 lead with 1:46 left in the third.
Even as Baldwin returned to the game in the fourth quarter and had three carries early in the second subsequent drive, Williams had five more rushes on that drive including another 4-yard score, his third of the night to put the exclamation point on the victory.
"(Williams) got down, so I had to be the big person and step up, and make us win this game," Williams said.
Baldwin finished with 225 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns and Williams had 110 yards on 17 carries with three touchdowns.
"I just had to become a man today," Baldwin said. "This is my first playoff win. I didn't know what to expect; coaches told me to be calm, do me, and things would work out for us."
St. Pauls (6-0) used its physicality to outgain the Tigers 369-185, including a 341-124 advantage in rushing yards.
"Our offensive coordinator (Eric Murphy) felt like we were more physical offensively," Setzer said. "Everything we saw in those guys, they were a physical team, but we feel like the conference we come out of is a physical conference, so we felt like we could do some things that some of our guys in our conference do against everybody else, and it worked tonight. We just shortened the field up on them a little bit, and did the ground and pound thing."
"Coach Murph saw what he saw and we just went with it," Baldwin said. "He said they're not more physical than us, and we're going to pound them. One week the receivers might shine, the next week the running backs might shine, and we're all up under it, we're not selfish."
Randleman (7-1), who scored 38.1 points per game in the regular season, was held to nine points. While injuries to starting quarterback Harrison Moffitt and running back Amarion Moton were a factor, the Bulldogs' physicality propelled them on that side of the ball too.
"Defensively we were more phyiscal," Setzer said. "We knew they were well coached, but we wanted to show them we were in plays too. I thought defensively our kids did a really good job of staying to the task, and not running around haywire. We want them to play like their hair's on fire, but stay on task. Sometimes when they would give us a little bit of eye candy, our guys didn't bite."
"It's not backing down, staying disciplined," defensive lineman Ethan Roberts said. "It started from Monday to Thursday in practice, just learning our opponent, just reading them and staying in there and staying strong, and staying positive."
Moton, who ran for 76 yards before his injury, ran every play but one of the Tigers' opening drive, leading to a 28-yard Chris Gentry field goal for a 3-0 lead. St. Pauls' next drive, which bled into the second quarter, culminated in a 20-yard Williams scoring run for a 7-3 lead with 11:27 left in the half.
After a Tigers punt, Baldwin scored on a 9-yard run for a 14-3 lead with 5:27 left in the half; St. Pauls had an additional would-be touchdown negated by penalty just before halftime and took that 14-3 edge to intermission.
Randleman scored on the opening drive of the third quarter on a 22-yard pass from Christian Long to Tyson Kightto pull to a 14-9 deficit, but missed on the two-point conversion attempt. St. Pauls answered quickly with a 33-yard Baldwin run to lead 21-9 with 7:20 left in the third.
"The O-line did great; I just had to be patient, let them do their thing, and the holes opened up for me," Baldwin said.
After the two St. Pauls scoring drives that followed Baldwin's injury, Randleman gained 50 yards, on its longest drive since the first quarter, before time expired.
St. Pauls advanced in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 after six straight first-round losses, and in the truncated playoff format for this season is one of the final eight teams standing in 2AA. The No. 2-seeded Bulldogs will host No. 3 SouthWest Edgecombe next Friday; the Cougars beat Roanoke Rapids 33-12 Friday in the first round.
"This is a new boundary that we're over stepping, and it's just good," Roberts said. 'We're taking it one game at a time, and hopefully we'll take this all the way, but we've got to take it one game at a time."
"It's huge, and even bigger, it's here," Setzer said. "And after the pandemic and everything, this community needs that. It's huge, and we're here next week, so we're loving it."
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.