By Tate Roussel
GONZALES – Despite two defensive touchdowns, the No. 28 seed East St. John Wildcats were defeated in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs for the second year in a row, falling 17-13 to East Ascension, the No. 5 seed, Friday night.
“Our kids came out and played hard. We had our chances, but we just never capitalized. At the end, hats off to our defense. We continued to get the ball back to give our offense a chance,” said East St. John’s first-year coach Brandon Brown.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight,” he added.
The Spartans came out ready to make a statement, scoring on the game’s first possession.
After a penalty pushed back the kickoff, the Spartans were set up with prime field position, starting the game’s first drive at their own 48-yard line. Evan Copeland’s 11-yard rush put the Spartans into Wildcat territory, and then he found the end zone six plays later for a 7-0 lead.
It was the senior running back’s only score of the night, but was part of his game-leading 168 rushing yards.
“That’s been him all year. A solid downhill runner. We call him ‘The Bull,’” said East Ascension coach Darnell Lee.
The leading passer of the contest was Wildcat quarterback Sean Shelby, who completed 9 of his 20 attempts for 99 yards.
The start of the second quarter gave life to the Wildcats thanks to Spartan mistakes.
Punting from their own territory, a bad snap on the Spartan punt attempt allowed the Wildcats to take over on the East Ascension 41-yard line. Several plays later, a facemask penalty had the Wildcats threatening at the goal line, looking to punch in their first score of the game.
The Spartan defense had other plans, as a fumble at the goal line was recovered by Spartan defensive lineman Damon McDonald. It put a stop to the Wildcat threat, but pinned the Spartan offense at their own 1-yard line.
Looking to move the ball out from the shadow of their end zone, the Spartans’ rushing attempt on the next play became disastrous for EA. Wakefield and Copeland collided with each other on the handoff, creating a fumble in the end zone that was recovered by a swarm of Wildcat defensive linemen.
The Wildcats, who ended their season 5-6, failed on the two-point conversion but cut the deficit to 7-6 with 8:16 to play in the first half.
On the following drive, the Spartans responded by taking the kickoff return deep into Wildcat territory and attempting a 35-yard field goal that sailed between the uprights and extended the lead to 10-6 at the 6:23 mark of the second quarter.
On the final drive of the first half, the Spartans were looking to extend their lead. With seconds left, they were planning on running one more play before attempting another field goal.
The play was a 6-yard completion to Jyrin Johnson, but he fumbled the ball on the tackle. Wildcat defender Jarius Monroe picked up the loose ball and exploded 80 yards as time expired for their second defensive score of the night.
A successful two-point conversion sent the Wildcats to the locker room with a 13-10 lead over the Spartans.
Also on the drive, the Spartans suffered a key loss at the running back position as Ethan Bagwell, the game’s leading rusher up to that point with 67 yards, was carted off the field with a leg injury.
The Spartans came out of the break ready to take back the lead on their home field as they took the first drive of the half all the way down to the Wildcat 1-yard line.
Then came a series of events that was very similar to what was seen in the first half, except this time it was with opposite teams.
On an attempted quarterback sneak, Wakefield fumbled the ball at the goal line and it was recovered by the Wildcats at the 1-yard line.
Just as the Spartans fumbled in their own end zone in the first half, the Wildcats did the same just two plays after the takeaway.
Shelby fumbled the ball on a designed quarterback keeper and it was recovered by Spartan senior Jacolby Reed for a touchdown.
The score gave the lead back to East Ascension at 17-13 with 8:01 left to play in the third quarter.
Facing this four-point deficit with 2:34 remaining in the game, the Wildcats’ offense took the ball near midfield looking for a score that would seal the upset and extend their season another week.
After a 16-yard completion from Shelby to Dontae Fleming and a defensive pass interference call, the Wildcats found themselves at the Spartan 18-yard line.
Two straight incompletions put the Wildcats in a third-and-long situation where they made the call to take a shot to the end zone. Shelby threw the ball up to Dasmain Crosby, who caught the ball near the back of the end zone, but came down with his feet just out of bounds.
On the next play, a fourth-and-10 that was the last hope for East St. John, Shelby scrambled out of the pocket but was stopped short of the marker on a big tackle by the Spartan defense, sealing the come-from-behind victory for the Spartans.
“They saved us. Period. Point blank. They saved us,” Lee said of his defense’s strong showing. “They didn’t score a single point on our defense.”