East St. John played like a Top 10 seed.
ESJ quarterback Sean Shelby connected with Markel August on a 67-yard touchdown pass with slightly more than two minutes left in the game to give East St. John a thrilling 34-30 win at Central of Baton Rouge in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night.
East St. John entered the game as the No. 24 seed after forfeit losses dropped the team’s regular-season record from 8-2 to 6-4. Had it not been for the forfeits, ESJ likely would have been a Top 10 seed an home for the first round.
The drop in seeding made for what seemed more like a later-round playoff battle as the East St. John was paired with Central, the No. 9 seed.
The Shelby-August connection was the second touchdown in a span of less than four minutes.
After East St. John scored to take the lead, it had to fend off Central one last time.
A 56-yard run by quarterback Sam Kenerson allowed Central to cross midfield in the closing moments. A pair of sacks by C.J. Gardner and Trevion Hampton backed up Central. A fourth-down pass fell incomplete, allowing East St. John to seal the win.
The win allows East St. John to play at home in the second round of the playoffs. ESJ will host Airline, the No. 8 seed. Airline defeated No. 25 seed Southside, 55-21.
Shelby’s winning touchdown pass to August was part of a big night for the duo. The East St. John quarterback passed for almost 350 yards and four touchdowns, while August had nine receptions for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
Central, meanwhile, moved the football mostly on the ground. Running back Isaiah Rankins rushed for more than 150 yards and four touchdowns. Kenerson also topped 100 yards rushing.
Shelby’s first touchdown pass to August from 35 yards out tied the game 7-7 after Central had taken a 7-0 lead on its opening possession on a 1-yard run by Rankins. The ESJ score was set up by a Shawn Sterling interception.
Central regained the lead at 13-7 thanks to an East. St. John miscue. Tyler Scott returned an ESJ fumble to the 3-yard line. Rankins scored his second touchdown with slightly more than nine minutes remaining in the first half.
ESJ drove 90 yards on the ensuing drive. Jackie Marshall scored on an 8-yard run to give his team a 14-13 edge with less than five minutes remaining in the opening half.
Andrew Medine connected on a 31-yard field goal to give Central a 16-14 lead at halftime.
The scoring followed a similar pattern in the second half with Rankins scoring on a pair of runs while Shelby and August hooked up on a 19-yard touchdown as Central led 30-21 to set up the dramatic finish.