Up four against Slidell with just over a minute remaining in the game and with the Tigers just 16 yards away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown, Ester picked off quarterback Jacob Guidry at the goal line and returned it for a Spartan score that effectively punched the team's ticket to the state quarterfinals.

At the start of the year, East Ascension's Jyrin Ester was a wide receiver. On Friday night, he came up with the biggest defensive play of the year for the Spartans.

Up four against Slidell with just over a minute remaining in the game and with the Tigers just 16 yards away from scoring the go-ahead touchdown, Ester picked off quarterback Jacob Guidry at the goal line and returned it for a Spartan score that effectively punched the team's ticket to the state quarterfinals.

"The defense came up with big stops all night, but I'm happy for Jyrin," East Ascension head coach Darnell Lee said. "He was a receiver we converted to cornerback. He took his licks during the year, but in the last couple of weeks, he's been coming up big for us. I'm proud of him and excited for him to have that moment."

It took some grit for the Spartans to make it to that moment. They trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, before scoring 21 unanswered and eventually winning, 28-25.

The Tigers returned the opening kickoff to the East Ascension 10, but the Spartan defense held them to a field goal.

Jaqunn Mitchell then had a big return on the ensuing kickoff to set the Spartans up at the Slidell 19. Three plays later, Evan Copeland scored on a seven-yard run to put East Ascension ahead, 7-3.

Late in the first quarter, the Tigers put together an eight-play, 93-yard drive. It culminated in a 29-yard touchdown connection between Guidry and Jordan Smith to give Slidell a 10-7 advantage.

They were able to carry this advantage into the break. At the half, East Ascension had just 71 yards of total office.

The Spartan offense appeared to have something going to begin the third as they drove to the Slidell 44, but the Tigers turned them over on downs.

Slidell then marched 56 yards in seven plays and extended their lead to 17-7 with a five-yard touchdown run by Harlan Dixon.

Then, in the fourth, the Tigers were driving for more. They reached the Spartan 17, but Shaivonn Robinson came up with an interception in the end zone and returned it to the East Ascension 15.

It ignited the Spartan offense. They put together an 11-play, 85-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jason Wakefield to trim the deficit to 17-14.

With time running low in the game, East Ascension forced a punt at midfield. The snap went over the punter's head, and the Spartans recovered at the Slidell 30.

On the next play, Copeland exploded up the middle for a touchdown to give East Ascension a 21-17 lead with 2:56 left to play.

Slidell got the ball and quickly marched downfield. A 34-yard Guidry to Brandyn Spann connection got them down to the East Ascension 16.

That's when Ester came up with the huge pick-six that gave East Ascension a 28-17 lead with just a minute remaining.

Slidell scored a quick touchdown and converted the two-point try, but they couldn't recover an onside kick.

East Ascension won despite being out-gained, 387-216.

Guidry put on a show with some Fran Tarkenton-like scrambling all night. He passed for 318 yards and ran for another 72, but he was picked off three times.

"Their quarterback did an extraordinary job of biding time and scrambling. It's hard for guys to cover for that long," Lee said.

The reason for East Ascension's fourth-quarter surge was obvious for Lee.

"It was physicality. We went back to running the football," Lee said. "Evan Copeland, once he gets hot, you feed him. The offensive line did a great job. They prevented the run-throughs up front. We got a hat on a hat, and Evan found the holes."

Copeland finished with 118 yards rushing and two scores.

After being dropped in the second round of the playoffs two years in a row, the Spartans have finally gotten over the hump and reached the quarterfinals.

"This is huge," Lee said. "At halftime, I told the guys that I don't believe in the 'second-round jinx.' I believe in the second-round kinks. We needed to iron them out in the second half, and that was getting back to ground-and-pound. You have to run the football in the playoffs to be able to have success. We stuck with the run, and it paid dividends for us."

East Ascension will visit fourth-seeded John Ehret in the quarterfinals this Friday night.