When Bastrop needed a big defensive play near the end of the first half, junior linebacker T.J. Blanch delivered.
With his team clinging to a 32-27 lead and under a half-minute remaining in the first half, junior linebacker T.J. Blanch knew Bastrop could ill-afford to give up a late touchdown.
Bastrop had just regained its lead over Calvary Baptist with 37 seconds remaining in a roller coaster first half.
Hitting a 47-yard pass play on their next play from scrimmage, the Cavaliers were threatening at the Bastrop 18.
Blanch read the next play like he had been in the Cavaliers' huddle.
Recognizing the screen pass in pursuit of the quarterback, he swiftly shifted into reverse. The preseason agility drills that sometimes seem so useless under the searing August sun were about to pay off.
"I saw the offensive linemen run back upfield, so I back pedaled and read the quarterback's eyes," Blanch said.
Blanch and Calvary running back Kordavion Washington both had a shot at the ball, but Blanch had the leverage. And the interception.
After two tough losses to start the season, Blanch understood the importance of his play in what was eventually a 45-30 victory.
"It was a big stop for us because we gave up a score right before the half in our last two games, and we lost both of them," Blanch said. "It was good to be able to keep the same thing from happening again."
Despite the late stop, Blanch was disappointed in the Rams' defensive play in the first half.
"I hate giving up touchdowns even though I know it's going to happen," Blanch said. "When it does happen, we just have to keep our focus and keep fighting like we did tonight."
Bastrop's defense won the fight in the second half, twice repelling the Cavaliers inside the 5.
A special teams breakdown turned the ball over to Calvary at the 9 midway through the third quarter, but the Rams held the Cavaliers to a field goal to maintain the lead, 32-30.
Bastrop's defense actually outscored Calvary's offense in the final half as Phillip Jackson's 46-yard pick-6 extended the spread to 38-30.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers drove to a first-and-goal at the Rams' 5. Four running plays later, the Rams took over on downs at their own 2.
Bastrop then drove 98 yards to clinch its first win in three starts.
"We really needed this win," Blanch said. "We didn't want to be 0-3."
Blanch has caught on at his new position after starting the past two years at defensive end.
"T.J. is in his third year as a starter," Bastrop coach Adrian Burnette said. "He works hard at everything he does, and it shows on Friday night."
Blanch's hard work isn't just paying off on defense. Against Calvary, he made 3-of-5 extra points (a figure that represents a vast improvement for Bastrop) and even booted a kickoff for a touchback.
"I'm getting better on my extra points," Blanch said. "Coach Hector (Cabrera) has been working with me. He's a good kicking coach."
For Blanch, the most special part of Friday night's win was being able to share the moment with his team.
"It's not for me," Blanch said. "It's for my teammates and coaches. They've put a lot of hard work into this."