The JPII Knights got back on the winning track on Thursday with a 51-34 victory over Hillwood High School.
"We'll enjoy this win," JPII coach Justin Geisinger said. "We battled some adversity."
Although JPII led the entire game, the Hilltoppers completed 11 plays of 15 yards or more and put the Knights' defense on their heels at times.
"Hats off to coach (Kurt) Page," Geisinger said. "They had a good plan and they executed it. They showed us some things we weren't expecting.
"They have some good athletes. They had time to make throws down the field. There were some blown coverages. Other times we were in position but didn't make a play. They made it a good ball game."
Every time Hillwood made a run at JPII, the Knights -- led by senior running back Nolan Underhill, who rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another -- responded.
"It feels pretty good," Underhill said. "We know we have some work to do. But we're glad for the win to get back on track."
It was a busy first quarter, as the two teams combined for five touchdowns. JPII took an early 14-0 lead on touchdown runs of 27 yards by junior quarterback Ben Nixon and 1-yard by Underhill, who set up his touchdown with an interception and 27-yard return to the Hillwood 25. He scored after a 24-yard completion from Nixon to Jordan Phillips.
Hillwood's offense finally got on track behind quarterback Hale Page's passes of 25, 17 and 20 yards. Running back Cymitrius Addison capped off the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to cut the JPII lead to 14-7.
Underhill answered on the next play from scrimmage, dashing 65 yards down the sideline for his second rushing touchdown of the quarter, giving JPII a 21-7 lead.
Then, Carder took a Page pass and broke several tackles for a 74-yard gain to the JPII 6-yard line. He scored on the next play on another pass from Page.
JPII's Nicholas Zanger added a 34-yard field goal with 5:44 left in the second quarter to push JPII's lead to 24-14.
JPII sophomore James Wright intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards to the Hillwood 10-yard line. But an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Knights pushed the ball back to the 25. They scored two plays later on a 17-yard pass from Nixon to Deuce Drennan to give JPII a 31-14 lead.
Hillwood answered in just three plays; two passes and a scramble by Page into the end zone. The half ended with JPII up 31-21.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, JPII recovered a Hillwood fumble at the Hilltoppers' 25-yard line. On the next play, Nixon pitched the ball to Underhill, who headed toward the sideline, stopped and passed the ball to a wide-open Brandon Keaton for the score.
"Brandon Keaton and I have a pretty good chemistry," Underhill said. "When the play was called, we kind of smiled and said this is a touchdown."
"The turnover on the second half kickoff was really big," Geisinger said. The team has been working on ripping the ball out of the runner's hands, and it paid off on that play, he said.
JPII scored again with 4:30 left in the third quarter when Nixon found Chase Petty alone in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown pass.
Page connected with Carder for a 30-yard touchdown pass to cut JPII's lead to 45-28 in the third quarter.
The Knights' final score came on a 6-yard run by senior Theo Onaghinor. The snap on the extra point attempt was bad and the attempt failed, leaving the score at 51-28.
Hillwood closed the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Addison as the clock ran out, giving the Knights a 51-34 win.
JPII racked up 565 yards of total offense, led by Underhill, who rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Nixon completed 20 of 29 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
The win improves JPII's record to 4-4. The Knights will have a bye week, before traveling to Ensworth for a region game on Friday Oct. 20 and finishing the regular season by hosting Goodpasture on Friday, Oct. 27.
"It couldn't be a better time for a bye week. We're banged up," Geisinger said. "The kids will get a few days off" before getting ready for the last two games of the regular season and the playoffs. "We want to be playing our best football then."
"We have to come together as a team. That starts with the leadership," Underhill said. "As a captain, I take that seriously. The coaches hold us to a high standard and we hold ourselves to a high standard."