East Ascension’s size advantage eventually took its toll on Lutcher, handing the two-time defending state champions a 30-13 loss in the season opener Friday night.
Despite the size disadvantage, Lutcher managed a 13-7 halftime lead by keeping the ball away from the Spartans with two, five-minute drives and an eight-minute possession but only had one offensive touchdown to show for it.
“It’s one of the things we knew about. We knew they were a physically dominant football team,” Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins said. “How can we stack up? I thought we tried in the first half to grind away and we got some big third-down conversions to kind of get in good position but we’ve got to score more points. We were kind of lucky to have the lead at halftime.”
“We saw it in the first half, especially on the offensive side, that their defense was able to only commit five guys to the run and they were able to hold us to two and three yards a carry,” the Lutcher coach continued. “I thought as the game went on they were really able to drop eight guys into pass coverage and really just be able to handle us up front and they were still able to get a pass rush with just three guys.”
East Ascension’s massive offensive line wore down the smaller Bulldogs in the second half and the Spartans were able to do so without their best offensive lineman, Cameron Wire, a LSU commitment. Wire has been out with a MCL injury but is expected back next week.
“It gave our younger guys an opportunity to grow and mature and I think it’s come together pretty well for us up front,” East Ascension coach Darnell Lee said.
East Ascension senior Jimel London almost single-handedly kept East Ascension in the game until the Spartans began to pull away. He returned a kick and punt for touchdowns. He also had an interception and had two other touchdowns called back.
“He’s special,” Lee said of London. “We knew that coming in. When we played Thibodaux last year the first game, Amik Robertson did this to us and I told Jimel before the game, I said, ‘look, you are our Amik Robertson. Are you ready?’ He said, ‘yes, sir, I’m ready.’ I didn’t expect this. He’s a special player.’”
All of the game action paled compared to what happened early in the third quarter. The game was delayed approximately 10 minutes when injured Lutcher senior defensive lineman Norris Johnson was carted off the field via a stretcher as he lay motionless and taken to the hospital with apparent head and neck issues.
“That’s the worst thing that can happen to a coach. You spend so much time and that’s hardest thing to ever see is a kid being unable to leave the field under his own power. We are getting some good reports back already so hopefully things will be very positive for Norris. At that point in the game, the final outcome is minute compared to the reality of the situation. All you can do right now is pray that he recovers,” Jenkins said after the game.
Minutes later, the Lutcher coach received word that Johnson was going to be OK.
Lutcher punted on its opening possession of the second half with London racing 67 yards for a touchdown to put the Spartans on top 14-13.
“It was wide open and I had to bust it,” London said of his punt return.
East Ascension stretched its lead to 17-14 when Ryan Gremillion kicked a 27-yard field goal on a drive that began with a 42-yard toss from quarterback Jason Wakefield to Markquell Stewart.
It was during the possession that Johnson suffered his injury.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, East Ascension’s Jalen Norman picked off the first of his two interceptions in the game.
“I was just in my zone and doing my work and it happened,” Norman said of the interception.
Two plays into the possession, London hauled in a short pass and broke free for a 59-yard touchdown that was called back because of a holding penalty. It mattered little as East Ascension eventually scored on the drive on a 16-yard pass from Wakefield to Stewart for a 24-13 lead early in the fourth quarter as the Spartans began to pull away.
East Ascension closed out the scoring on a 1-yard run by Phabian DeJean with 4:01 left in the game on a drive set up by Norman’s second interception.
Hurting the Bulldogs’ effort was the loss of running backs Jacoby Williams and Rondell Mealey with injures for extended periods in the second half.
“In the first half we were able to have some success with some two-back runs. We lost those two backs for quite a while in the second half and we really had to adjust there. They did a really good job of being able to control the box with five guys,” Jenkins said.
Lutcher dominated time of possession in the first half yet trailed late in the second quarter until a bizarre play gave the Bulldogs the lead at 13-7.
Trailing 7-6, Lutcher mounted a 17-play drive. The drive appeared to be halted shortly after it began. On third down from the Lutcher 13, Bulldogs quarterback Kolby Bourgeois scrambled back into his own end zone before finding a wide-open Zane McCrary for 25 yards to the LHS 38.
Lutcher eventually faced fourth-and-3 from the East Ascension 4-yard line and the Bulldogs elected to attempt a field goal.
Bulldogs kicker Alec Bland, who had an extra-point attempt blocked earlier that caused the one-point deficit, lined up from 20 yards to attempt the field goal.
Bland’s effort was again blocked. Following a scrum by both teams to control the ball, Daevon Adams ended up with the football but with no chance to advance it so he pitched to Bland at the about the East Ascension 10 and the kicker ran across field to his left for a touchdown. His successful conversion attempt gave Lutcher a 13-7 lead with 2:29 remaining before halftime.
Lutcher opened the game with a 10-play drive but got nothing out of it when forced to punt.
On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Lutcher mounted an 11-play drive. Bland set up to attempt a field goal when Lutcher faced fourth-and-2 from the East Ascension 18. The Spartans jumped offside to give the Bulldogs a first down.
Four plays later, Lutcher scored o a 12-yard run by Adams. Bland’s extra-point attempt was blocked as the Bulldogs led 6-0 at the 10:56 mark of the second quarter.
The lead was wiped away in a matter of seconds when London raced 99 yards with the ensuing kick. Gremillion’s successful conversion gave the Spartans a 7-6 edge.
“I was just thinking I’ve got to score right now if they kick it to me. As soon as I touched the ball, I knew I was going to score,” London said.