ST. PAUL — It took three quarters for St. Paul’s offense to find a rhythm during Friday’s Class C-2 first-round playoff game against Centura.
But the Wildcats’ defense gave the offense all the time it needed.
No. 1-rated St. Paul held the Centurions to 131 yards of total offense and a rough 6-for-33 passing night to claim a 36-0 victory.
Tommy Wroblewski had a pair of first-half interceptions to help St. Paul (10-0) go up 16-0 at the half.
Wildcats coach Rusty Fuller said the defense did a good job shutting down Centura’s offense, which moved quarterback Tyler Ruhl to running back and had Tate Trumler at QB.
“They made an adjustment putting Ruhl at running back,” he said. “They did that last week against Broken Bow, so we knew that we needed to key on him. We thought maybe they’d try to run the ball a little bit more, but to get the shutout, I’m very, very proud of our defense.”
Ruhl was limited to 43 yards on 19 carries and 0-for-5 passing with an interception. Trumler was 6-for-28 with a pick, and at one point Centura threw 17 consecutive incompletions.
“We know that everything goes through Ruhl, and he’s a great player,” Fuller said. “So they are able to do a lot of different things when they moved him to running back. We knew they could toss pass. We knew they could inside zone. We knew they had speed option and toss. There’s a lot of areas our guys had to cover, and I think they knew that.
“For the most part, they did a good job containing him and forcing them to throw the ball a little bit. Our secondary came up with some nice interceptions, which was huge for us.”
Trailing 8-0, Centura had a prime opportunity to score in the first quarter after blocking a punt and taking over at the St. Paul 18-yard line. But Wroblewski came through with his first interception on third down to stop the scoring threat.
“Every defensive turnover always creates a shift in the game,” he said. “That’s what happened for us.”
Wroblewski said the Wildcats were prepared to be tested by Centura’s passing.
“We knew they were going to throw, because that’s what a lot of teams do against us,” he said. “Our secondary had to step it up, and that’s what we did.”
Offensively, it was more of a struggle for St. Paul. The Wildcats fumbled the opening kickoff return but recovered, then had three misplayed snap exchanges on that opening drive.
But it ended up working out for the best. Running back Trevor Dugan scooped up one of those fumbled snaps in the backfield and ran 35 yards for the opening touchdown with 9:47 left in the first quarter.
Jackson Seward’s 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter was the only other score before halftime. He finished with 99 yards on 12 carries.
“Defensively they did something they haven’t done all year,” Fuller said. “They ran a 3-4 monster, and through nine games they hadn’t run that. That caught our guys off guard a little bit and it took a little bit to settle in.
“Finally we just said let’s quit overthinking it, let’s get back to the basics of what we do best. Once we started doing that, that’s when we started seeing our big gains with Seward and (Eli) Larson.”
Larson — who rushed for 1,672 yards and 26 touchdowns in the regular season — was contained by the Centurions before breaking out in the fourth quarter. He had second-half touchdown runs of 5, 59 and 7 yards and also busted loose for another 57-yard run.
After only having 41 yards through his first 13 carries. Larson finished with 159 on 17.
St. Paul (10-0) defeated Centura (6-4) just two weeks ago 57-7.
Wroblewski said the rematch provided the Wildcats with a lesson.
“I think we overlooked them,” he said. “We can’t do that. In the playoffs, you can’t overlook any game.”
St. Paul will host Aquinas (8-2) in next Friday’s quarterfinal round after the Monarchs blanked Shelby-Rising City 27-0.