Sterlington 63, Baker 30
Clinging to a 6-point halftime lead, Sterlington scored 28 unanswered points to pull away for a 63-30 victory over Baker in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
Sterlington (11-0) awaits the winner of Friday's game between No. 17 Union Parish and No. 16 Donaldsonville.
Thursday night's game against Baker looked like a typical No. 32 vs. No. 1 mismatch early on as the Panthers vaulted out to a 28-8 lead less than 14 minutes in.
Baker received the opening kickoff and struck for a big play on the game's fifth offensive snap. Terry Johnson threw to Demetrius Hatten for 46 yards, but Dawson Snell's fumble recovery enabled the Panthers to start their first series from the 24. It would be the first of seven turnovers by the Buffaloes (3-8).
Sterlington picked up two first downs before bringing on the punting unit. Dorian Eddins' fumble recovery on a muffed punt enabled the Panthers to maintain possession at the 18.
Instantly taking advantage of the reprieve, Austin Dupree housed a pitch to the right side as Sterlington went ahead 7-0.
Baker countered with a five-play, 65-yard drive, highlighted by Terry Johnson's 49-yard pass to Claude Coleman. Terry Johnson's 1-yard touchdown plunge and Desmond Windon's 2-point conversion run gave the Buffaloes an 8-7 edge with 4:42 remaining in the opening frame.
Baker's only lead would last a mere 73 seconds.
Clay Vaughn's 42-yard kickoff return gave the Panthers a short field at the 34.
With the Panthers facing third-and-16 after a holding penalty, Dupree took a screen pass from Clowers, shook a pair of tacklers and meandered 40 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
Chris Parker's fumble recovery stopped a promising Baker drive at Sterlington 30.
Jordan Townsend started a seven-play, 70-yard march with a 37-yard jaunt before punching it in from the 1. Landon Green's PAT brought the score to 21-7 with 17 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
Taking over at its own 45 after an empty possession by the visitors, the Panthers needed just one play to get back on the board. Davis Johnson wheeled and threw to Clowers on a reverse pass, and the former wide receiver zigzagged his way to the end zone. The trick play stretched the Panthers' lead to 28-8 with 10:30 to go before recess.
To its credit, Baker would not quit. Instead, the Buffaloes dominated the remainder of the half.
Hatten pulled down a 15-yard pass between two defenders to finish an 11-play, 69-yard drive, and Coleman's 2-point reception closed the gap to 28-16.
Three plays into the Panthers' next series, Coleman' 12-yard scoop and score brought the Buffaloes within 28-22 with 5:10 on the clock.
Sterlington was fortunate to maintain its halftime lead as the Buffaloes advanced to the 3 before fumbling the ball out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Baker continued to hang around until the Panthers broke the game open with two defensive touchdowns in a matter of 22 seconds late in the third period.
Brooks Rushworth's 47-yard punt rolled into the end zone for a touchback, and the Buffaloes began their third series of the half from their own 20.
On first down, Snell crashed into the backfield to knock the ball away on a designed pass play, and Trevor Jones turned the recovery into an 18-yard touchdown return.
Setting up at the 24 after Peyton Matthews' tackle on the kickoff return, the Buffaloes attempted another ill-fated pass play. Dorian Eddins made the interception as the throw ricocheted off the finger tips of a Baker receiver and dashed 39 yards the other way for the touchdown.
Turning the ball over for the third straight play, Baker put the ball on the ground on first down, and Colby Rivera made the recovery for the Panthers at the plus-32.
Three plays later, Dupree darted 15 yards to paydirt. Sterlington's lead had jumped from 28-22 at the three-minute mark to 49-22 with 35 seconds remaining in the third period.
Taking over on downs at the 32, Sterlington went backwards on its next series, but Rushworth's 39-yard punt pinned the Buffaloes at their own 1.
After a fourth-and-three pass fell incomplete, the Panthers took over at the Baker 8, leading to Townsend's 3-yard TD.
Terry Johnson (14 yards) and Sterlington's Zach Crain (9 yards) traded touchdown runs to wrap up the scoring.
Notes: Senior Night ceremonies were held for the football players prior to the game and for spirit group members at halftime. ... Sterlington scored its most points since defeating Ferriday 63-34 in Week 6 of the 2013 campaign. ... The Panthers' 211 rushing yards were a season low. ... Sterlington center Landon Jinks left the game briefly in the third quarter with back pain, but returned to finish out the game.