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Lutcher claims eighth state title with 40-36 triumph over Amite

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  • Feature Story
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  • George Becnel
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  • December 10, 2016 - 4:49pm

Photos by Jarrod Monaret/LA Sports PhotographyJontre Kirklin was named Lutcher's Most Outstanding Player rushing for 223 yards and a touchdown, while passing for 158 yards and three scores.

NEW ORLEANS - In the hierarchy of great Lutcher quarterbacks a play late in the third quarter of the Class 3A state championship game may have solidified Jontre Kirklin’s spot at the very top.

Three plays after Amite answered a Lutcher touchdown to trail 33-28; the Bulldogs faced third-and-6 from its own 24. Kirklin sprinted to his right and found no running room. He reversed field and ran to his left. He then pulled up and tossed across field to a wide-open Tariq Belvin. The fleet-footed receiver caught the ball at his own 45. He broke free, picked up a wipe-out downfield block by fellow receiver Gregory Clayton at the Amite 35, and sprinted the remaining yards for a 76-yard touchdown play that extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 40-28.

“Actually, I couldn’t even get outside. If I can’t get outside, I will try to make a move and I know everybody is shifting to the left. If I bounce it back to right, I know I would have blockers and stuff. There always will be somebody (a receiver) there on the back side,” explained Kirklin.

It was the biggest of numerous big plays by Kirklin. He came up with a similar touchdown effort earlier in the second half. In a back-and-forth first half, the Lutcher quarterback almost singlehandedly kept the Bulldogs in the game, accounting for 200 of LHS’ 209 yards of total offense in the opening period

“In big games, Jontre Kirklin knows how to get it done. Sometimes as a coach, all you have is get out of the way. Give him the keys to the car and let him drive it,” Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins said.

Be it big pass completions, long runs or amazing conversion plays, Kirklin drove the Bulldogs with power-steering efficiency. He finished the game with 223 yards rushing and was 11 of 22 passing for 158 yards and three touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Lutcher defense may not have stopped the Warriors – Amite quarterback Elijah Walker rushed for 71 yards and passed for 270, while Milton Sanders rushed for 112 yards and Devonta Smith had 111 reception yards – but the Bulldogs came up with the stops when they had to, allowing the 2016 LHS squad to become the first in school history to repeat as state champions with a 40-36 triumph over the Warriors on Saturday afternoon in the Superdome.

“What we asked the defense to do was not give up the big play,” Jenkins said. “Give us a chance; make them drive it. That was a key in the second half. We were able to make tackles, make them drive it and force them to make a mistake at some point and be able to cash in on it.

“Statistically, it was not a great night for the defense but when you break it down series by series and the defense had to make a play, somebody stepped up.”

Ethan Bland stepped up twice. He recovered two fumbles. The first came on Amite’s first possession of the second half to set up a score. The other came at the Lutcher 1-yard line to deny the Warriors a touchdown.

“It’s everything you dream of,” Bland said of being a two-time state champion. “It’s everything I imagined it would be. It’s a great feeling and a great moment. What a way to end the careers for the seniors over the past four years, it’s just a great feeling.”

Six previous state champions at Lutcher tried and came up short in an attempt to repeat as champions. The 2016 team made it happen in Jenkins’ first year as coach after taking over for mentor Tim Detillier, who retired after his fourth state title in 2015.

“This goes for those guys that sat it this chair before me,” said Jenkins, a former Lutcher quarterback and assistant coach. “I’m sure every year they wanted to win a state championship after winning it the year before. Coach (Lou) St. Amant lost the first one and I didn’t want to be the first coach since Coach St. Amant to lose another one for a state championship. I think that’s pretty remarkable when you think of eight-straight championship victories. That’s pretty special. I’m just the byproduct of the program that was established by some great guys before me.”

Lutcher trailed by two points to open the second half and gained its first lead of the game less than two minutes into the third quarter on a 5-yard run by Daevon Adams for a 26-22 Bulldogs edge.

Four plays into Amite’s ensuing drive, Walker dropped the snap from center, with Bland recovering at the Warriors’ 41.

“It was just and exciting moment. The ball came right to me and I was able to be there and be able to pick it up and gave us the ball back,” Bland said.

The Bulldogs eventually faced first down at the 10-yard line when Kirklin ran to his left and threw back to his right, finding Jacoby Williams in the end zone to extend Lutcher’s lead to 33-22 at the seven minute mark of the third quarter.

The game was far from over. Walker leaped over from a yard out to cap a 65-yard drive as the Warriors pulled to within five points at 33-28 with 3:21 left in the third quarter.

Kirklin, the only player in Luther history to capture Most Outstanding Player honors in a championship game twice, came up with his toss to Belvin that allowed the Bulldogs to build their lead up to 40-28 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.

A turnover on downs early in the fourth quarter gave Amite the ball at its own 45. The Warriors faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Walker fumbled the snap and Bland was there once again for the fumble recovery.

“The biggest thing was just keeping the ball out of their hands and keeping them from scoring. On the fumble recovery, it just kept them out of the end zone and gave us a chance to win the game,” said Bland.

“Ethan Bland is not a guy that’s going to go on and play college football. He’s not a guy who will light up the scoreboard or anything like that but he’s unselfish. He’s the ideal player. He’s a great leader and he gives you every ounce his body can give. Those are guys you can build a program around,” Jenkins said.

Amite got the ball back with 5:31 left in the game and eventually faced third-and-14 from the Lutcher 20. Like Walker did on many occasions throughout the game, he came up big on third-and-long, tossing to Devonta Lee, who made a leaping catch in the end zone. A keeper by Walker for two points made it 40-36 with 3:05 left in the game.

Lutcher recovered an onside kick attempt and ran out the clock on another state championship.

Except for conversion attempts, Lutcher answered each time it had to in trailing only 22-20 at halftime.

A 6-yard touchdown run by Walker and the quarterback’s two-point conversion run gave the Warriors an 8-0 lead at the 4:48 mark of the first quarter.

A short kickoff and return by Belvin allowed Lutcher to take possession at the Bulldogs’ 43. Four plays after a 24-yard tackle-breaking run by Kirklin, Adams scored from 5 yards out on a pitch from the Lutcher quarterback. Alec Bland missed the extra point and the Bulldogs trailed 8-6 with 2:27 remaining in the opening quarter.

Following a punt exchange the teams traded scores once again. Facing fourth-and-14 from the Lutcher 24, Walker drilled a pass over the middle to Cameron Henderson for the touchdown. A field two-point pass left Amite with a 14-6 lead with 9:40 remaining in the second quarter.

Belvin fumbled on the ensuing kickoff but Lutcher recovered at its own 42 to start another possession with favorable field position. Seven plays later, Kirklin hooked up with Clayton from 12 yards out. Kirklin hit Al’dontre Davis on a two-point conversion pass to tie the game 14-14 at the 7:57 mark of the second quarter.

The tie was quite momentary. Smith fielded the ensuing kick in over-the-shoulder fashion before racing 93 yards for a touchdown. Walker fumbled going into the end zone o the two-point conversion but the Warriors recovered to lead 22-14.

The Bulldogs drove to the Amite 11-yard line where they faced fourth-and-8. Kirklin scrambled to buy time before hitting a diving Davis for a first down at the 1-yard line.

Kirklin dove into the end zone on play later. A failed two-point conversion pass made it 22-20 with 5:34 remaining in the second quarter.

Amite threatened in the closing seconds of the first half but the Bulldogs came up with several big plays down the stretch to deny the Warriors. Dylan Recotta tipped a ball away at the goal line on one pass play. On two other passes into the end zone, the Bulldogs had excellent pass coverage by sophomore defensive back Zane McCrary.

“He has played excellent all throughout the playoffs. If we boil it down to one kid who made big plays in the playoffs, Zane McCrary’s name is coming up. He had a fumble recovery against Avoyelles. He had an interception to end the game at Wossman. He had multiple batted balls here tonight.”

The Bulldogs finally broke through in achieving back-to-back state titles. Kirklin, a key architect in that accomplishment, there will be more to come from the Lutcher program.

“I’d glad to make history and put my name in the books but it’s just another boundary that I can set for someone else that can come in and strive to do what I did. Somebody can come in and work hard and win three. It’s just a motivation for everyone,” said Kirklin.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.