The teams combined for 37 points in the first half, but neither team found the end zone in the third quarter.
Morgan City forced a fumble in Ellender (0-7, 0-2) territory in the last minute of the third quarter with Devonte Gabriel jarring the ball loose and Keldon Calloway recovering the ball for the Tigers.
Four plays later MCHS caught a break when Adeyemi Wheeler ran the ball from the 11 and fumbled into the end zone. An Ellender player stood over the ball and tried to pick it up in the end zone, but sophomore lineman Daryl Johnson jumped on the ball for a Tiger touchdown. Sergize Flores added the extra point for a 28-16 lead.
“It was (a back breaker),” Ellender coach Terry Washington said. “One of our kids tried to pick it up, not knowing the situation. This kid is a sophomore. If he falls on the football it’s a touchback. So we get the ball at the 20 and they don’t score and we’re still in the game. Little things like that, we still don’t know a lot of football. But, at the end of the day I’ll take this group of guys because we’re going to get this thing turned around.”
Johnson was a steady presence in the Ellender backfield from his defensive line position and he filled in on offense in the power formation.
“We had to suspend No. 78 Joseph Jones this week,” Nowlin said. “So, we were a little light on the defensive line. He had to play a good bit of both ways. It’s another thing that hurt us, defensively I thought, especially earlier in the game.
“Daryl did a great job recovering that fumble in the end zone. He’s been asking me since last week when Turtle scored, when he was going to get his touchdown. So, he got it this week. A big man like that, he’s only a sophomore. He’s only going to get better.”
The first half was wide open with Ellender on the board first on a short yardage run, but Hoang Nguyen answered with a 30-yard pass to Tyrin Watts for a touchdown to tie it up.
Watts extended one hand out for the ball and was able to bring it in to complete the Tigers five-play drive with a score.
The defense forced a three and out on the ensuing Ellender drive and Austin Stroud showed off his state track meet level speed on a 40-yard punt return for a 14-7 MCHS lead.
“I really wasn’t expecting it, but whenever I saw it broke (open) I took it to the house,” Stroud said.
An Ellender field goal made it 14-10 and the Tigers answered with a 10-play drive of 80 yards capped off with a 5-yard run by Eric Walker.
Ellender answered immediately on its first play of the drive with a 69-yard pass from Ray Dupree to Thomas Johnson to make it 21-16 Morgan City at the half.
In the third quarter, Morgan City lost two fumbles and nearly lost the ball on a fumble into the end zone, but managed to score on the recovery.
On the play before the fumble recovery touchdown, the Tigers looked to have scored on a Nguyen scramble, but the score was called back on a block in the back penalty.
“We probably left about 21 points on the field in the second half, we just can’t have that,” Nowlin said. “We had three penalties that took touchdowns off the board. I thought the block in the back call was very, very questionable. We had a hold on a kickoff return and we false start right here on the one-inch line and settle for a field goal. You just can’t do that.”
Ellender played admirably considering that their top two options at quarterback were out.
“It’s been the same old thing all year,” Washington said. “We had the deck stacked against us tonight. Our quarterback went down last week. Our No. 2 guy went down as well. We moved our best athlete to quarterback, and he did a great job it being his first time at quarterback.”
Nowlin said homecoming and the festivities and distractions that come with it had an effect on the Tigers early on, but they settled in and got the win.
“I’m proud of the way our guys kept competing, especially on defense,” Nowlin said. “There’s definitely a few things we need to improve this week if we’re going to have a chance going on the road in district against a very, very good South Terrebonne team. They’re going to take the ball and try to run it until you like it. They throw it occasionally, but if we take care and execute and don’t kill ourselves with mental mistakes and penalties — I think we might have a chance to steal one next week.
“It’s going to take every effort and everybody doing what they’re supposed to do and their responsibilities to go out there and try to get a win next week. It’s going to be tough, but that’s what it’s about when you get into district play.”