BLOOMINGTON — When the football left a quarterback’s hand and landed in the mitts of Central Catholic High School senior James Morris, it stayed there Saturday.

Saints quarterback Max Moews targeted an aerial strike in Morris’ direction five times in their Class 3A first-round playoff game at Bill Hundman Memorial Field. Morris, a slippery wide receiver, caught all five. Three went for touchdowns.

But it wasn’t until Beardstown quarterback Ike Riddle’s final pass attempt was picked off by Morris from his linebacker position with 1:36 remaining that anything was certain about the outcome.

Morris made a juggling interception along the sideline that sealed a 35-31 back-and-forth victory for fourth-ranked Central Catholic.

“My job was to be in man coverage on the tight end,” Morris said. “They did a little play-action pass that I was able to get a hand on and tip it. I eventually caught it. I was so hyped at that point.”

So were the rest of the Saints (9-1), who advanced to face No. 2 seed Williamsville on the road next Saturday. Game time is set for 2 p.m. Williamsville mauled Spring Valley Hall, 52-6.

The Saints took a 35-31 lead — the sixth lead change of the game — with 2:36 left on a 5-yard touchdown hookup between Moews and Morris. They connected four plays earlier for a 41-yard completion on third and 10 that got the Saints to the Beardstown 21.

Morris finished with 132 yards receiving, while Moews completed his first nine attempts on his way to a 15-for-24 day for 296 yards and four TDs.

“We have a great connection,” Morris said of his quarterback. “I was able to get open, and he threw it on a dot.”

Beardstown (7-3) scored on the game’s opening possession and led 14-7 after the first quarter. The Tigers opened the second half by surprising the Saints with an onside kick they couldn’t handle.

Tigers running back Drake Wrobleski scored a 4-yard touchdown to make it 28-28 before Riddle booted a 34-yard field goal for a 31-28 advantage with 5:01 left in the third.

“The kickoff to start the second half really changed the tone,” said Saints coach Mike Moews. “We had played so well offensively in the first half and for them to get the onside kick really gave them some momentum. It was just a battle from then on.”

The Saints committed 12 penalties for 100 yards. They were flagged five times during Beardstown scoring drives.

Central’s sixth offsides penalty of the game seemed to give Beardstown just what it needed during an eight-play drive that surpassed midfield with 4:30 left. But junior defensive lineman Patrick Namhoff recovered a fumble to set up the Saints’ go-ahead march.

“I really felt like we owned the line of scrimmage today,” said Beardstown coach Robbi Howard. “We just had a couple of ballhandling mistakes and gave them too much through the air. We knew Moews was a talented kid and we had some matchup issues with (Morris). All credit to them for the plays they made.”

Morris’ interception was his fourth of the season and the only one he hasn’t returned for a touchdown. Saints senior running back Sa’mond Davis had a game-high 116 yards and one touchdown.

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