Sterlington 28, Donaldsonville 18
By Marq Mitcham
Sterlington got off to an uncharacteristic fast start, hit a lull in the second quarter and turned it on again in third quarter on its way to a 28-18 Class 3A second round playoff victory over Donaldsonville.
"Donaldsonville is a good team. This was a big win for us," Sterlington coach Lee Doty said. "I'm proud of our kids. I'm proud of how they held their composure and proud of how they performed. To make the quarterfinals in our first year in 3A is quite an accomplishment. We have played two teams loaded with athletes in the first two rounds."
Typically, the Panthers (12-0) have started slow and finished strong this season, particularly of late. Friday night against the 16th-seeded Tigers (8-4), they were on their game out of the chute.
Visiting Donaldsonville started the game on offense from its own 30. Safety Trevor Jones helped set the tone for a three and out by destroying a first down screen pass for a 5-yard loss.
Sterlington began its first drive with quality field position at its own 41 after the punt. Two plays later, the Panthers were in the end zone.
Carson Clowers kept for 13 yards on first down, then flipped a 46-yard touchdown pass to Brooks Rushworth to the delight of the sizable crowd. Landon Green's PAT put the Panthers up 7-0 just 2:22 into the proceedings.
Starting from its own 20 after Green's kickoff bounced into the end zone for a touchback, the Tigers picked up a first down at the 33 on quarterback Jaylin Williams' 13-yard run. Jamon Pleasant then carried for seven yards to bring up second-and-three, but Colby Rivera and Dawson Snell combined to drive the Tigers back five yards on the next two plays.
Taking over at its own 39 after a second straight Donaldsonville punt, the Panthers went backwards as a holding penalty negated a long run by Clowers.
Rushworth then boomed a 58-yard punt, forcing the Tigers to start from their own 8.
Donaldsonville moved the chains to the 30 with the aid of a personal foul against the Panthers. Justin Fuller and a groupof Panthers disrupted a first down running play for a loss of six and two passes fell incomplete to bring on the punting unit for a third straight drive.
Chase Carter broke through to bat down the punt, and the Panthers recovered at the 5. A personal foul at the end of the play forced the offense to start from the 20.
"We got off to a great start," Doty said. "The blocked punt was awesome."
Three straight handoffs to Jordan Townsend, who scored from three yards out, enabled Sterlington to double its lead to 14-0 with 1:53 left in the opening period.
Donaldsonville countered fiercely with a nine-play, 80-yard drive, capped by quarterback Jaylin Williams' electrifying 21-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-four. Dropping back to pass, Williams rolled to his right, circled all the way around the left edge and dived into the end zone. Cole Jones blocked the extra point, leaving the score at 14-6 with 10:39 to play in the half.
There was no further scoring until after the break, although the Panthers threatened in the waning seconds of the half.
Starting from their own 4 with 3:48 on the clock, the Panthers drove all the way to the 18 behind Clowers' 27-yard run and Reid Handy's remarkable 12-yard catch just inside the left boundary.D'ondre Fisher's sack pushed the Panthers back to the 29 before Green's 46-yard field goal into a brisk wind fell short as time expired.
As has become customary, the Panthers played lights out to start the second half.
Setting up at its own 32 upon receiving the second half kickoff, the Panthers went 62 yards on five plays. Dupree inflicted the bulk of the damage with runs of 22 and 36 yards before Luke Denman barged into the end zone from a yard out.
Donaldsonville went three and out on its initial series of the second half, and the Panthers started from their own 39. Rushworth's 22-yard reception and Dupree's 11-yard carry brought up first-and-goal from the 10.
Two plays later, Rushworth took a screen pass to the house from eight yards away as the Panthers widened their advantage to 28-6 with 3:11 to play in quarter three.
James Gipson's 38-yard reception highlighted a nine-play, 80-yard drive as the Tigers closed within 28-12 at 1:47 in the third period.
Donaldsonville added a cosmetic score on Jemon Pleasant's 5-yard run with 42 seconds remaining. Chris Parker intercepted the 2-point pass to preserve the Panthers' 10-point lead.
Jake Houston covered the ensuing onside kickoff and the Panthers closed out the game in victory formation.
Sterlington moves on to the quarterfinals where it will host Richwood in a District 2-3A rematch on Friday at 7 p.m.
Notes:Dupree (20 carries, 134 yards) went over the 100-yard mark for the eighth time this season. ... Snell logged a team-high 14 tackles with two stops in the backfield and a pick. ... Rivera matched a season-high with seven tackles, including two for negative yardage. ... Quick tackle Chandler Jones was taken to the emergency room after the game for arm X-rays. ... Clowers was assisted to the bench with his right knee raised with four minutes left, but returned to kill off the remaining seconds of the Panthers' final possession. ... Townsend sat out the second half with an ice pack on his ankle. ... Sterlington won its 21 straight game. ... All four of Donaldsonville's losses came against teams which are still in the playoffs (Sterlington and St. James in 3A, De La Salle and St. Charles in Division II.