Undefeated Bulldogs surge past White Castle in district opener

Michael Tortorich
Ascension Catholic's Brock Acosta returns an interception 31 yards for a touchdown against White Castle on Thursday night. He also caught a 34-yard touchdown pass. Photo by Michael Tortorich.

Turnovers plagued both teams throughout the game, as they accounted for nine fumbles (five lost) and four interceptions. Capitalizing on the turnovers proved to be key for Ascension Catholic (5-0), as they separated themselves from White Castle (3-3).

Ascension Catholic head coach Benny Saia had high praise for the defense, which did not allow any points.

"We're 1-0 in district," Saia said. "They made us play ugly, but we did it. Defensively, I'm running out of things to say. (Defensive coordinator) Coach Chris (Schexnayder) and the defense threw a shutout. The six that they got was off of a turnover on offense."

Ascension Catholic's defense stifled White Castle on the opening drive. Ascension Catholic scored in three plays as running back Khai Prean scored on an 15-yard counter run. Quarterback Bryce Leonard connected with running back Jai Williams on the two-point conversion pass.

Ascension Catholic struck again when Leonard threw a 22-yard touchdown to Eric Simon. Jacob Dunn kicked the extra point, giving the Bulldogs a 15-0 lead with 7:14 left in the first quarter.

White Castle forced a turnover when Jonathan Penn Jr. was able to snag an interception. But Ascension Catholic's defense made a stand on the ensuing drive, stopping White Castle on fourth down.

Then the White Castle defense answered with a big play of its own. White Castle blitzed and forced an interception, which Ira Anderson III snagged and dashed 34 yards to the end zone for a touchdown. With 53 seconds remaining in the first quarter, White Castle closed the lead to 15-6. The conversion run attempt failed.

Ascension Catholic added to the lead with 5:10 left in the second quarter when Leonard connected with Brock Acosta on a quick-slant pass for a 34-yard touchdown. The extra point failed, keeping the lead at 21-6.

Then, Acosta pulled down an interception from his safety position and returned it for a touchdown. With Dunn's kick, Ascension Catholic held a 28-6 lead at the 2:40 mark in the second.

With 41 seconds remaining before the half, Williams broke free on a 48-yard touchdown run. Dunn added the extra point, giving the visiting Bulldogs a 35-6 lead.

"It took me a minute to figure it out," Saia said. "They were doing what they were doing, but we had to do what we did. We had to get in the stack, block down, cover all the gaps and just make them tackle Jai and Khai out there. We were patient and it worked. Really the only thing, we couldn't get any of our linemen out on anything. They were coming in the gaps. I'm proud of the kids. They adapted and did what they had to do."

In the second half, Ascension Catholic went into an I-formation on offense, inserting 6-foot-4, 240-pound J'Mond Tapp at fullback. White Castle's defense made a stop on fourth down, and began to put together a drive. Ascension Catholic's defense picked up another turnover when Nick Hilliard pounced on a fumble.

On the next possession, Ascension Catholic set up a score behind the power running of Tapp. Williams capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to the right pylon with 2:14 left in the third quarter. Dunn's kick increased the score to 42-6.

During the next drive, another turnover was recorded as Ascension Catholic's Brayden Duhon recovered a fumble at the White Casle 14. Prean capped the scoring on a 12-yard touchdown run around the right side. The kick missed, giving Ascension Catholic a 48-6 lead with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.

Ascension Catholic's Williams led all rushers with 201 yards on 17 carries. Prean added 29 yards on four attempts. Williams and Prean had two touchdowns each.

Marcus Williams led White Castle with 46 yards on five carries. Javier Batiste finished with 30 yards on 10 tries.

Acosta had two catches for 62 yards. Simon added one reception for 22 yards. Leonard went 3-of-5 passing for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

Notably on the defensive side, Tapp led in tackling with six solo stops, two assists, three tackles behind the line and two quarterback hurries. Williams had four solo, five assists, two hurries and a sack.

Next on the schedule, Ascension Catholic travels to take on Erath for a non-district matchup.