HENDERSONVILLE The stars were aligned for Pope John Paul II to collect its first playoff victory, but visiting Baylor turned Friday’s Division II-Class AA playoff opener into a gloomy evening for the Knights.
The Red Raiders outscored PJP II 21-10 in the fourth quarter after holding a slim 14-10 lead entering the final period, handing the Knights a season-ending 35-20 loss at the Jim Carell Athletic Complex.
It ends the school’s first winning season since 2006, though the Knights program will still be searching for their first postseason victory next year.
“I know our guys are disappointed,” Pope John Paul II head coach Justin Geisinger said. “Obviously, having a home playoff game and having a chance to win the first playoff game – but I’m just really proud of our kids this year. We don’t want to go out like that. There’s no moral victories in this program – we’ve nixed that. I think we’ve fixed that part.”
Three things that defined the Knights’ loss:
Pope John Paul II senior quarterback Ben Brooks threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s loss. What those stats don’t show is the constant, relentless pressure the veteran signal-caller was under on nearly every single dropback.
“We knew that they were going to bring the heat,” Geisinger said. “That was one of the things we prepared for this week.”
Baylor blitzed early and often, doing so from various places in an effort to put Brooks under duress, and it worked, as he had to frequently scramble to make passes.
“He’s not just a good athlete, but he’s a really good quarterback, too,” Baylor head coach Phil Massey said of Brooks. “We knew that for us to do well, we had to put pressure on him and make him hurry his throws up.”
Brooks was sacked six times – the same number as he suffered in the Knights’ 21-19 victory on Oct. 14 in Chattanooga – and hit the turf more than that.
Knights win turnover battle, but can’t cash in
Brooks forced a turnover by ripping the ball from the hands of Baylor’s Brendon Harris on the second play of the game. It was one of three turnovers the Knights collected, but those takeaways only resulted in seven points.
“You look at turnover margins when it’s on your end and usually the chances of winning go way up,” Geisinger said. “From that end, it was positive. But we can’t afford the big negative plays. It’s tough to put yourself way behind the chains against good football teams in our region that have good defensive backs.”
Big plays through the air
Baylor had two touchdown passes where a Pope John Paul II tackler was in the area and failed to get the Red Raider receiver on the ground. The first one turned into a 77-yard catch-and-run for Mike Benning in the second quarter, and the second one was a 79-yarder to Jaylon Baker that ultimately put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
“We started giving up a few big plays defensively late in the game,” Geisinger said. “They have some playmakers, but it wasn’t one thing or another. They beat us tonight.”