ABBEVILLE — Vermilion Catholic coach Russell Kuhns had an onside kick in his arsenal all night and when he saw what he was looking for in Central Catholic’s kickoff team, he unleashed it.
It just so happen it did more than get the ball back for Vermilion Catholic on the opening drive of the second half.
It was the beginning of the Screaming Eagles’ comeback in its 35-14 victory against Central Catholic in the District 8-1A title game Friday.
“I had that planned the whole time. That was the first time I got to kick off though,” Kuhns, whose squad received the ball to begin the game, said.
He said if Central Catholic only put four guys on the front line, which they did, he was going try an onside kick, no matter when in the game it was.
“It just so happened, it was to start the second half, and we did it,” Kuhns said.
Central Catholic coach David Fuhrer said he knew the play was coming.
“We were expecting (an) onside kick to start the second half, and they executed perfectly,” he said. “We (were) just a little hesitant in going after the ball. It was a slow roller, and the guy got to it. With them getting that and going down and scoring, they got the momentum and they just took it from there.”
Trailing 14-0 with Central Catholic set to get the ball to start the second half, Vermilion Catholic’s Drake Broussard put the onside kick in motion and recovered it fairly easily at the Central Catholic 49.
One play later, Vermilion Catholic’s Dustin Desormeaux, lined up at quarterback, took a snap and dashed 50 yards for a touchdown just 11 seconds into the second half to cut the Central Catholic lead to 14-7.
It was the first of five second-half touchdowns for Vermilion Catholic, in contrast to the first half when Vermilion Catholic moved the ball against Central Catholic’s defense on eight first-half drives but came up empty every time.
“We really didn’t do anything different,” Kuhns said of his offense.
He later added, “I think offensively … we knew we had to get it done or we were going to lose the game, and everybody stepped up and everybody (was) blocking harder, playing harder, running harder.”
On defense, Kuhns said his squad had to limit Central Catholic’s Dontrell Brown, who had torched them for both Central Catholic scores in the first half on runs of 75 and 48 yards.
Vermilion Catholic’s offense wasn’t the only portion of its game that got in a groove Friday as the squad’s defense suffocated Central Catholic, limiting the visiting Eagles to 60 yards of total offense, 33 of those on the Eagles’ last drive with the game firmly in hand.
While the Eagles’ run game didn’t gain much in the first half, it was mostly stalled in the second half as it was limited to 13 carries for zero yards.
Most of the lost yardage came via Vermilion Catholic sacks on Central Catholic quarterback Luke Landry as Vermilion Catholic was able to bring more pressure in the second half.
“We brought a little pressure on him in the second half. We wanted to heat him up a little bit because it didn’t look like he was responding well to pressure, and they weren’t blocking it very well, so we were just going to see how they were going to respond and they didn’t respond well,” Kuhns said.
While he gained 28 yards in the first half, the rough second half limited Landry, the Eagles' top threat as a runner this year, to 15 carries for 13 yards.
Through the air, Landry was limited to 60 yards passing after passing for 169 in the first half, including touchdown passes of 75 and 48 yards to Brown for the Eagles’ lone scores.
Landry finished the evening with 229 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception.
While the Eagles’ offense struggled in the second half, Vermilion Catholic scored on five of its eight offensive possessions. One of those empty possessions ended with the Screaming Eagles kneeling to end the ball game.
After scoring its first touchdown, Vermilion Catholic tied the game on quarterback Brennan Gallet’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Connor Menard with 7:36 remaining in the third.
After Central Catholic stopped the Screaming Eagles on its next possession, Vermilion Catholic came back with consecutive touchdown drives, one on Michael Campbell’s 6-yard run with 5.6 seconds remaining in the third quarter and a second on Desormeaux’s 2-yard run with 7:13 remaining in the fourth quarter for a 28-14 Vermilion Catholic lead.
Vermilion Catholic added its final touchdown of the game on a 35-yard Campbell run with 2:33 remaining in the game.
While things went sour for Central Catholic in the second half, things started out great in the first half.
After stopping Vermilion Catholic on its first offensive drive, Central Catholic needed just one play to reach the end zone as Landry completed a pass to Brown, who snared the ball over a defender. The defender fell down on the play, and Brown was able to elude the remainder of Vermilion Catholic’s defense for a 75-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Central Catholic lead with 10:36 remaining in the first quarter.
After a big special team’s play, the Eagles stopped Vermilion Catholic’s Joey Faulk after a 1-yard gain on a fake punt at the Vermilion Catholic 47, and the Eagles again needed only one play to score.
Landry again found Brown, this time for a much shorter pass, and the speedy Central Catholic receiver slipped past Desormeaux for a 48-yard score and a 14-0 Central Catholic advantage.
The Eagles failed to score the remainder of the first half, including being stopped 2 yards short of the goal line on Landry’s completion to Josh Protti as time ran out at the end of the first half.
Fuhrer said his squad “played fast” during the first half, but also could have scored more than they did.
“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We left a few points on the board in the first half. We should have taken advantage of that, and we didn’t.”
Defensively, though, the Eagles came back with stop after stop on the Vermilion Catholic offense, including stuffing Gallet for no gain on a fourth-down-and-1 play at the Central Catholic 36.
One Central Catholic youngster that had a nice game was eighth-grader Jalen Johnson, who came in fairly easily and sacked Gallet for an eight-yard loss on fourth down at the Central Catholic 27.
Later in the second quarter, Johnson intercepted Gallet to set up Central Catholic’s final drive of the first half.
Central Catholic totaled 284 yards of total offense in the loss (229 passing and 55 rushing).
Protti led Central Catholic’s rushing game with eight carries for 27 yards, while Brown hauled in five passes for 145 yards and two scores, and Josh Singleton, six for 43.
Vermilion Catholic put up 472 yards of total offense including 313 yards rushing on an impressive 53 carries.
Campbell rushed for 181 yards on 20 carries and scored twice, while Desormeaux added 143 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns.
Gallet passed for 158 yards, a touchdown and threw one interception.
Menard led the Vermilion Catholic receivers with two catches for 53 yards and a score, while Desormeaux added two grabs for 45 yards, and Campbell, two for 37.
Central Catholic, the No. 19 seed in the Class 1A playoffs will return to action Friday when it travels to face No. 14 seed Cedar Creek. Vermilion Catholic, the No. 3 seed, will host No. 30 seed St. Martin’s Episcopal.
“Like I told the guys, we’re guaranteed one more game,” Fuhrer said. “We (are) in the playoffs … We’re going to straighten out our mistakes we made tonight and we’re going to play hard next Friday.”