Airline 27, Bastrop 26
There is one thing worse than being 0-2 — being 0-2 when you think you should be 2-0.
Zylon Newson returned a fumble for the deciding touchdown and Airline stopped a 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter to win a 28-27 squeaker over Bastrop on Friday night at Ram Stadium.
If there were mulligans in football, the Rams would go back and replay the final 90 seconds of the first half.
Leading 12-0, the Rams took over on downs at their own 48 with two minutes remaining.
Back-to-back first down passes to Christian Smith and Sir'Quan Hawkins advanced the Rams to the 34. That's when the game changed. Dre Robinson stepped in front of a pass near the left sideline and returned the interception to the Airline 46 with 1:20 left until halftime.
Rather than landing the jugular, the Rams were suddenly reeling.
Seizing the momentum, the Vikings (2-0) marched to the Bastrop 24 as Brad Fream hit Coby McGee on passes of 13 and 17 yards.
Two incomplete passes later, Cameron "JoJo" Davis took a shovel pass to the house through the heart of defense. The PAT failed, but Airline had cut the margin to 12-6 with 34 ticks on the clock.
Continuing to self-destruct, the Rams fumbled the ensuing kickoff away at the 37.
A 32-yard pass play on first down, combined with a personal foul put the Vikings in business at the 3.
Three straight incomplete passes brought up fourth-and-goal with one second remaining. Rolling to his right, Fream flipped a 3-yard TD strike to Harrison Tauzin as the horn sounded. Noah Sheets' extra point sent the Vikings into intermission up 13-12.
"You play it over in your head before the game, and put yourself in every situation," Bastrop coach Adrian Burnette said. "In your mind, you have everything covered. Then things happen. We make a bad read on the interception, then we drop the kickoff return. We hold them until fourth down with one second on the clock, and give up a touchdown right before halftime."
Starting from its 35 after receiving the second half kickoff, Bastrop struck for a big play as Bobby Smith turned a screen pass into a 28-yard pickup to the Airline 33.
The drive quickly fell apart as a negative play on first down, a low snap on second down and a false start soon brought on the punting unit.
Taking over at their own 39, the Vikings covered 61 yards in nine plays.
Nate Fullilove's 21-yard reception on third-and-seven moved the sticks to the 37.
Two plays later, Thomas Williams broke off an 18-yard run to the 14 to set up his own 3-yard touchdown run as the Vikings padded their lead to 20-12.
Bastrop countered with a four-play, 65-yard drive.
With the Rams facing third-and-11, Quaterious Hawkins threw to Smith for 38 yards to the 28, then found Smith again on a vertical route for the score.
Flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the touchdown, the Rams were backed up to the 18 for the 2-point conversion. Unfazed, Hawkins and Smith hooked up again to tie the game at 20 with 6:36 to play in the third quarter.
"Our quarterback woke up in the second half," Burnette said. "Christian Smith played out of his mind tonight. He stays and works after practice every day, and it shows in the game.
"Our receivers are doing what they need to do. Sir'Quan Hawkins made some big catches tonight. We just need to do a better job of finishing."
Airline moved the chains on its next series, but Za'Derrion Ridgell disrupted a pass in the backfield for a loss of four on first down and Robeyone Williams stopped a third down completion for a short gain to bring up a punting situation.
Starting from the 15 after the punt, the Rams converted a third-and-11 on a 13-yard pass from Hawkins to Hawkins.
Two plays later, Matt Salinas jarred the ball loose on a blindside sack and Newson scooped it up for a 28-yard touchdown return. Sheets' added what would prove to be the decisive PAT, putting the Vikings up 27-20 at 1:59 in the third period.
After an exchange of empty possessions, Smith's 17-yard punt return gave Bastrop good field position at the plus-41 to open the fourth quarter.
Smith's 11-yard catch was good for a first down at the 30, but a holding penalty on the next snap negated a first down run by Desi Holmes.
On third-and-nine from the 29, Quarterious Hawkins kept for eight yards and was awarded an additional 10 yards (half the distance) for a late hit.
With a fresh set of downs at the 11, Quaterious Hawkins hit Sir'Quan Hawkins in stride over the middle for the touchdown. Unable to convert the try for 2, the Rams trailed 27-26 with 10:38 remaining.
Bastrop began its final possession from its own 20 with exactly seven minutes to play after Airline's punt went for a touchback.
Sir'Quan Hawkins' 20-yard reception got the drive off to a promising start, but a holding call soon derailed the Rams.
Taking over at their own 34 following A.J. Fenceroy's 32-yard punt, the Vikings were able to pick up three first downs and run the final 6:27 off the clock.
For Bastrop, which dropped a 20-12 decision to Carver the previous Friday in New Orleans, there was a sense of déjà vu. For the second straight week, missed opportunities in the first half proved costly. And, for the second consecutive week, the defense played well enough to win.
"We have a good team," Burnette said. "We have a state championship defense, we really do. We just have to catch up on the other end."
Burnette didn't need to see the stat sheet to know the Vikings took a decisive majority of the offensive snaps. For the record, Airline ran 82 plays, 25 more than the Rams.
"We keep putting too much pressure on our defense to play too many snaps this early in the season. That's something that comes back to haunt you. We need to keep our offense on the field and give our defensive kids some breaks," Burnette said.
Both teams started slow offensively. Bastrop opened the scoring with a defensive touchdown, complements of Phillip Jackson's 46-yard scoop and score off of a Denterrius McHenry sack with 25 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Fenceroy's interception at the Airline 35 set up Smith's 33-yard run as Bastrop doubled its lead to 12-0 with 2:58 left in the half.
But the promising start went for naught.
"These kids are resilient and tough," Burnette said. "The goal never was to go undefeated. The goal was to develop some discipline and a sense of pride. What we want is, at the end of the season, to be the best team in 4A.
"Rome wasn't built in a day. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy."
Bastrop wraps up a two-game homestand Friday night against Calvary Baptist.