A tale of two halves: Baldwin, Bulldogs strike in 2nd half to beat Union Pines

·5 min read

Sep. 10—ST. PAULS — It only took one run at the start of the game Friday night for Kemarion Baldwin to become St. Pauls' all-time career rushing yards leader.

But it was his big runs in the second half — and big plays by the entire Bulldogs team — that turned the tide towards St. Pauls in a 42-13 win over Union Pines.

"Watching them come out at the first half, it just felt like we were playing ourselves," St. Pauls coach Mike Setzer said. "I went in at halftime and said, guys, we're playing two teams, we're playing Union Pines and we're playing St. Pauls. You win ballgames by executing. I thought we were two different teams tonight; we executed in the second half, and then I think now a little bit of the pressure is off their shoulders and we can get back to more Bulldog football."

Baldwin ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 14 attempts; this includes 148 rushing yards on just five second-half carries, three of which he took to the end zone.

With the contest tied at 7-7 at halftime, the first two St. Pauls offensive plays of the second half were Baldwin touchdown runs. The first came from 41 yards after a strong kick return by Zious Dorley, then a drive later Baldwin scored on a 73-yard dash. When a botched snap on the extra point became two points when Chris Bryant ran it in, St. Pauls led 22-13 with 9:02 left in the third.

"I think settling down, and I think they understood, hey, we've still got a pretty decent football team, a pretty decent offense," Setzer said. "I think (offensive coordinator Eric Murphy) did a good job coaching them up. I think when they came out and executed the first drive, it was like exhaling. We were holding our breath for two weeks."

Union Pines (2-2) had scored on the last drive of the first half to even the intermission score, then on its first drive of the second half on a 13-yard pass from Ben Finkelstein to Jason Jernigan. But the Vikings would not score again, thanks largely to three interceptions by the St. Pauls defense, only adding to the highlight reel of big plays in the second half.

After the first, by Bryant, St. Pauls (2-1) fumbled the ball back to Union Pines. but after Baldwin scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a 24-yard run, making it 29-13 with 1:03 to go in the third, Trejon McBryde intercepted the Vikings' next play from scrimmage and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown, making it 35-13. The conversion run attempt failed.

"The coach was telling me to get outside, because I kept getting beat in all night," McBryde said. "I got outside, and I got my hands on the receiver, and the ball just flew in my hands and I got it."

A Vikings fumble on the next drive was recovered by Dorley, a senior playing his last game of the season before an operation next week. A play later, Dorley caught a 48-yard pass from Theophilus Setzer for another Bulldogs touchdown and a 42-13 lead with 10:07 remaining.

"My team handled adversity very well," Dorley said. "We were down, we had to balance it out, we had to get our confidence back to where we could win the ballgame.

"You've got to leave it all on the field. Do it for each other, do it for yourself, do it for everybody. Do it for the county."

Neither team scored in the first quarter; Baldwin put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard on the team's second drive with a 4-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 8:48 left in the first half. After two punts, Union Pines drove 70 yards at the end of the half, scoring on a 1-yard Finkelstein run as time expired after a confusing final-seconds sequence including a catch just short of the goal line and a defensive pass interference.

It was after this touchdown, when the teams went to their locker rooms, that the game changed for the Bulldogs.

"At the start of it, we really weren't playing together," Bryant said. "We weren't being disciplined on the ball. We went in the fieldhouse and we talked; leaders stepped up."

"We can't keep letting teams stay in there like that with us," Baldwin said. "We've got to go in there and enforce our will. We started the game out poorly ... we can't have that against good teams. Now that we know what our ceiling is, we can work towards that — and that starts Monday in practice."

Theophilus Setzer threw for 97 yards and rushed for 45 for St. Pauls. Dorley caught two passes for 59 yards.

Union Pines' Finkelstein threw for 75 yards. Holden Thomas was the Vikings' leading rusher, totaling 41 yards on 15 attempts.

Baldwin broke the school rushing record of Marqueise Coleman, who starred for St. Pauls from 2016-19; the record-breaker came on the Bulldogs' first offensive play, on a run of 32 yards — yet another reminder of Coleman's jersey number after so many of them have been seen around the Bulldogs program since his death in July 2021.

"'Quiese continues to be here," Setzer said. "(His No. 32) is painted over there (beyond the end zone). We've had these things happen over and over and over again. We just praise God that we can remember his time here, and hopefully K.B. and others have continued to pay homage to the guys that come before them."

Baldwin now has 4,483 career rushing yards, compared to the 4,271 rushed for by his former teammate and mentor.

"It's what he wanted — he handed the torch off to me, and I'm hoping to hand the torch off when I leave," Baldwin said. "St. Pauls has got the best running backs in the state; we breed running backs here. So I'm hoping to see who's next."

St. Pauls won its fourth straight in the series against Union Pines, which it leads 4-2 overall. The Bulldogs host Fairmont next week in both teams' Southeastern Athletic Conference opener.

Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at cstiles@robesonian.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.