Sterlington 13, Union Parish 12
Call the Sterlington Panthers unpredictable if you will, but you can't call them boring. One week it's a shootout, the next it's a slugfest.
Squeezing out their second straight one-point victory, the Panthers moved on to the Class 3A semifinals with a 13-12 victory over district rival Union Parish on Friday night.
On the road for the first time in five weeks, Sterlington (11-2) will travel to No. 1 seed Iota (13-0) for the semifinal round.
A week after surviving a 57-56 overtime track meet vs. Church Point, the fourth-seeded Panthers leaned on their defense against the No. 5 Farmers (10-3). Sterlington won its first encounter with The U 31-20 in Week 9 at Farmerville.
"The kids played their butts off on both sides — theirs as well as ours," Sterlington coach Lee Doty said. "Just like last week, you hated to see either team lose."
In contrast to the first meeting in which they never trailed, the Panthers fell behind early.
Just two plays after Sterlington receiving the opening kickoff, Union's Antonio Hunter recovered a fumble at the Panthers' 30.
Going right to work, quarterback Trent Ginn hit Treyvion Holly just inside the right pylon. Cole Jones blocked the extra point, but the Farmers had taken a 6-0 lead just 72 seconds into the contest.
Union had scored its only offensive touchdown.
"We fumbled the ball, they threw a bomb off on us and (Holly) makes a heck of a catch in the end zone," Doty said. "After that, our defense played lights out and got (five) turnovers."
Starting its second possession from the 25, the Panthers generated three first downs, with Jordan Townsend converting a fourth-and-one with a 4-yard run to the Union 37. Sterlington retained possession on a second down fumble in the backfield, but Jarred Singleton stopped a third-and-10 running play for no gain.
Opting to send on the punting unit, the Panthers pinned the Farmers back to the 3 when Zach Crain downed Reece Brooks' 34-yard punt.
Three plays later, Reid Handy stopped a third-and-seven running play a yard shy of the first down marker to bring on the punting unit.
Taking over at the plus-40, Dallas Reagor carried for eight yards on first down, but Trent Tisdale shot into the backfield to stop a third-and-two rushing attempt for a loss of three to force a second straight empty possession.
Union began its next series from the 25 after a short punt.
Jakius Wallace's 11-yard reception moved the sticks to the 36.
Two plays later, Holly slipped a tackle for a 44-yard catch all the way to the Sterlington 16.
With the Panthers in danger of falling behind by two scores, Trey Eddins picked off a third down pass in the end zone and returned it to the 20. A 15-yard stepoff against the Farmers for a personal foul on the return enabled Sterlington to assume possession at the 35.
After a first down pass fell incomplete, Reagor was called upon twice for 12 and 15 yards, and Crockett delivered a 17-yard pass to Handy for another fist down at the 21.
Holding on despite taking a hit on second-and-nine, Hixson Street's 16-yard reception set up first-and-goal from the 4. Townsend punched in on a third down dive from the one, and Jacob Green's PAT gave the Panthers a 7-6 lead with 5:32 to play in the half.
Trey Eddins' second interception enabled the Panthers to start their final drive of the half from their own 22.
Sterlington quickly made its way to the 21 as Reagor carried for 29 yards, Crockett kept for 15 and Reagor struck again for 13 more. But the drive fizzled from there, and the Farmers took over on downs at the 24, just over a minute before intermission.
Aided by a personal foul against the Panthers, Union crossed midfield on the opening series of the second half.
Chris Smith's two-yard pickup on fourth-and-one was good for a first down at the 26.
Wallace bulled his way for seven yards on first down before Colby Rivera's stop in the backfield resulted in a loss of two. Two incomplete passes later, the Panthers took over at the 21.
After trading punts, the Panthers began their second drive of the final half from the minus-11.
Reagor gained 20 yards on first down, but a holding penalty led to third-and-16 from the 25. Jedonte Loggins' long interception return was wiped out by an illegal block, but the Farmers still ended up with quality field position near midfield.
Holly's 44-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the fourth quarter was erased by a pass interference flag and Brooks made a jumping pick at the 35 on the following snap to end the threat.
Reagor ran for 15 yards on first down, but another holding flag defused the drive.
Clay Vaughn's 31-yard punt rolled dead at the 25.
Two plays later, Willie Holloway jarred the ball loose from a Union back and Rivera recovered at the 30.
Sterlington immediately turned the ball back over with disastrous results. Intercepting a pitch in the backfield, Keshawn Brock dashed 66 yards the other way to put the Farmers ahead 12-7 with 7:53 on the clock.
Flagged for taunting on the touchdown, the Farmers kicked off from their own 25.
Crain's 11-yard kickoff return put the Panthers in business at the minus-47, but a first down holding penalty led to an empty possession.
Union's offense was on the field for only one play as Rivera dislodged the ball on first down and Seth Temple recovered at the plus-33.
With the Panthers facing third-and-nine, Crockett tossed to Rainbolt, who slithered past a pair of tacklers for a 32-yard touchdown.
Rainbolt would have been content with a first down.
"I just sat in the hole, and Hayes threw it in front of me," Rainbolt said of the game-winning pass. "I thought I was going to get tackled as soon as I caught it. I took a couple of steps, broke a couple of tackles and scored. It was crazy."
Sterlington's 2-point pass off a faked extra point was unsuccessful, but the Panthers had regained the lead, 33-32, with 5:18 remaining.
Union began its final series from the minus-33.
Ginn threw to Holly for seven yards on first down, but Luke Carmichael shut down a second down running play for negative four and Justin Fuller batted down a third down pass to bring up fourth-and-seven from the 36. An illegal shift reversed the Farmers to the 31 and the Panthers eventually took over on downs at the plus-42 with 3:48 remaining.
Reagor's 19-yard gain on third down moved the sticks to the 19. With Union down to one timeout, all the Panthers had to do was run out the clock.
A year after having its season end in the quarterfinals against a Richwood team it had beaten during the regular campaign, Sterlington had achieved the difficult feat of defeating a good team twice in one season.
"It was a heck of an effort by our kids," Doty said. "Can you beat a team twice in one year. Yeah, you can."
Notes: Iota reached the semifinals with a 21-14 win over Springhill North Webster. ... In the lower half of the bracket, Kaplan downed Lake Charles Prep 22-12 and Eunice handled Madison Prep 41-12. No. 3 Kaplan will visit No. 2 Eunice in Friday's other semifinal.