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St. Paul’s ground game punishes Birmingham in 31-7 win

Perhaps the lure of the 50th anniversary celebration of St. Paul’s 1968 Division 4A championship team inspired the current Swordsmen to put their best foot forward.

Members of that team were looking on from the stands and the sidelines as St. Paul dominated Birmingham with its running game, defeating the Patriots 31-7 Friday night in a nonleague home game.

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The Swordsmen remained unbeaten on the season, their 4-0 start the school’s best since 2011 when it opened with five straight victories, thanks to a complete effort on both sides of the ball.

“There’s not a day that goes by that our players aren’t aware of the tradition here,” St. Paul coach Rick Zepeda said. “The place is special to the alumni who come back and they want to see the same elements that they had when they were here.”

Running back Trenell Ridgley provided an element the legends would appreciate with his hard-nosed ground game as the junior rushed 19 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while the defensive unit provided toughness, coming up with three key interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the red zone to disrupt potential Birmingham scoring drives.

The Swordsmen deployed seven different ball carriers on the night, three of them scoring touchdowns, and combining for 319 yards on 44 carries and four touchdowns.

St. Paul established its potent running game early, keeping 10 of its first 11 plays on the ground, resulting in a 40-yard touchdown run from Ridgley on the Swordsmen’s second drive of the game.

St. Paul went to the air early in the second quarter as Conner Genal completed two straight long passes to Daniel Pallan and Christopher Mitchell, setting up a 14-yard touchdown run up the middle from Mateo Rico, giving the Swordsmen a 14-0 lead at the 9:37 mark of the period.

Birmingham answered just over three minutes later as quarterback Jason Artiga exposed one-on-one coverage by connecting with target Abdul-lateef Audu for a 43-yard touchdown pass and catch up the left sideline, cutting St. Paul’s lead to seven with 6:30 left in the half.

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