Down 27-6 early in the second half, Central Catholic (6-5) scored twice to cut the Cedar Creek lead to eight points.
But the Cougar defense halted a potentially game-tying Central Catholic scoring drive at midfield then ran out the clock with less than two minutes to play to advance to the regional round.
“The kids fought hard. … We got in a hole and couldn’t overcome it,” Central Catholic coach David Fuhrer said this morning. “They’re a good team. … (They are) well coached. They had a good game plan.”
Cedar Creek coach Ben Haddox said the game “was about momentum.
“We jumped out early and (Central) Catholic could have just quit,” Haddox said, “but they didn’t. We had to give everything we had. This was a hard-fought game.”
Cedar Creek spread the Eagle defense with a series of Donald Jenkins and Shiloh Perry sweeps to get on the board first. With a second-and-goal from the Central Catholic 1, quarterback Mark Van followed center John Johnson into the end zone. The extra point failed but with 16 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Cedar Creek led 6-0.
The score capped an 11-play, 65-yard drive with 16 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Cougars drove 55 yards to pay dirt on their next possession. Perry, who finished the game with 54 yards rushing, started right then cut upfield for 41 yards before Eagles’ defense end Lamar Grogan made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Central Catholic 9-yard line. Two plays later, Van pushed his way into the end zone from two yards out and the Cougars led 13-0 with 8:35 remaining in the second quarter.
The momentum continued with Cedar Creek when Chase Murphy picked off quarterback Luke Landry’s pass and raced 40 yards to the Central Catholic 38-yard line.
But the Eagles’ defense stiffened.
The Cougars faced a third and 20 when Van rolled left and hit receiver Ryan Dwyer for a 33-yard catch-and-run. Four plays later, Van went to the air again, rolling left and flipping the ball to Grant Jonkheer, who raced nine yards down the sideline for the third Cedar Creek score with 1:50 remaining in the first half. The extra point was unsuccessful, but the Cougars now led 19-0.
Central Catholic got on the board before halftime with a five-play, 65-yard drive that took just more than one minute. Aided by a Cougar facemask penalty and a 23-yard run by Josh Protti, Landry hit Josh Singleton for a 5-yard touchdown with 39 seconds left. The Eagles could not convert the extra point and trailed 19-6.
The Cougars regained momentum early in the third quarter when Landry was hit and the ball popped into the arms of defensive end Caleb Kyle, who raced 40 yards to the Central Catholic 1. Jonkheer turned the Eagle turnover into points with a 1-yard plunge at the 10:16 mark of the third quarter.
Jenkins, who led the Cedar Creek rushing attack with 104 yards on 21 carries, added the two-point conversion run and the Cougars led 27-6.
“We had to do some things a little different tonight,” Haddox said. “Their defense was designed to stop Grant (Jonkheer). So we put in some wrinkles and gave the ball to Donald (Jenkins) and Shiloh (Perry). Donald had a real good night and showed what he is capable of doing for our team.”
Central Catholic got its offense going in the third, using a no-huddle scheme.
The scheme, which stymied Cedar Creek’s ability to make defensive substitutions, along with two Cougar pass interference penalties, helped Central Catholic march 74 yards on 13 plays to pay dirt.
Singleton finished the drive with a 5-yard sweep to cut the Cedar Creek lead to 27-13 with 6:26 remaining.
After Central Catholic stopped a Cedar Creek drive on downs at the Central Catholic 14, the Eagles’ Landry, who was 17-of-35 through the air for 147 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, engineered a 14-play, 83-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard screen pass to Dontrell Brown for a score with 3:34 remaining. The Eagles’ extra point attempt was no good on the play, and the Eagles trailed 27-19.
Cedar Creek penalties kept the Central Catholic drive alive on two fourth-down plays — one for facemask and one for pass interference.
Central Catholic made one last drive to try and tie the game with two minutes to play. But on fourth-and-four from midfield, Landry scrambled and while being tackled, flipped the ball to Protti for a first down. However, the Eagle quarterback was ruled past the line of scrimmage when making the pass and Cedar Creek took over.
With the loss also meant the end of the high school careers for Central Catholic’s seniors, many of which have been starting since at least their sophomore year. Fuhrer said they have played a role in the squad’s success in recent years.
“They fought hard Friday night,” Fuhrer said. “They’ll be missed.”
Central Catholic outgained Cedar Creek in total yards, 289-251.
The Eagles had a balanced attack with 142 yards rushing and 147 passing, while Cedar Creek had 209 yards rushing and 42 passing.
Protti led the Central Catholic rushing attack with nine carries for 75 yards, while Singleton led the Eagles’ receivers with 10 catches for 82 yards and a score.
For Cedar Creek, Van completed two of four passes for 42 yards and a score, while Dwyer caught a pass for 33 yards.
Cedar Creek will continue postseason play Friday when it travels to Abbeville to battle third-seed Vermilion Catholic. Vermilion Catholic defeated 30th seed St. Martin’s Episcopal, 48-10, in other bi-district action.
Reporting by Ruston Daily Leader freelance writer Ed Crawford with additional contributions by Review Sports Editor Geoff Stoute.