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Gators’ momentum stymied by Central’s punt block

Peter Silas Pasqua
St. Amant quarterback Jaylin LeBlanc carries for a 20-yard gain ahead of Central’s Jared Ghoram in the second quarter of the Wildcats’ 31-13 victory Friday night.

ST. AMANT - St. Amant had trimmed Central’s lead to eight points before stopping a potential touchdown drive with an interception when the Wildcats blocked a punt to set up a score erasing the Gators momentum in the fourth quarter on way to a 31-13 non-district victory Friday night at The Pit.

“You can’t take anything away from Central,” St. Amant head coach David Oliver said. “They are a well coached club and they play hard. We got in a little hole early and we started to scratch back but there were key special teams’ plays that I felt really turned the tide.  We had a nice stop on defense and ended up getting that punt blocked deep in our own end. They turned that into quick points and it kind of took the air out of us.”

Tre’ Vaughn capped a 14-play, 74-yard drive with a 1-yard score on the Gators’ opening possession of the second half to cut Central’s lead to 21-13  with 1:52 left in the third quarter but Colby Robert’s kick was blocked by Louis Covington. St. Amant’s Marvin Martin and Zach Whittington combined to stop Antonio Dunn for no gain on fourth down on the opening series of the half after the Wildcats drove 35 yards and quarterback Jaylin LeBlanc connected with Anthony Bonadona for 11 yards before Nelson Jointer burst through the line of scrimmage for a 29-yard pickup to set up the score.

“It was so much more close than the score would ever indicate,” Central head coach Sid Edwards said. "This is the best I have seen St. Amant look in a while.  It is vintage and they gave us absolute fits. It brought back bad memories because I was at Catholic during that era.”

Central drove 58 yards to the Gator 19 on the ensuing possession behind five completions from quarterback Will Briscoe including a 26-yard connection to Ed Cutno but P.J. Brown came down with an interception in the back right corner of the end zone to end the drive.

St. Amant failed to convert a first down and three plays later Covington blocked Justin Manton’s punt that was recovered by St. Amant’s Jovin Webb at the Gators 17. Briscoe kept for 16 yards and then 1-yard for the score two plays later. Matthew Thibodeaux’s kick made it 28-13 with 9:54 left to play.

“I think the blocked punt was the key play of the game,” Edwards said. “They had just went on a tremendous drive and had the momentum.”

Vaughn took an option right 19 yards to open the ensuing possession but the Gators did not pick up a first down the rest of the game.

Thibodeaux capped the Wildcats’ ensuing 12-play, 71-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal to make it 31-13 with 4:42 left to play. Dunn gained 29 yards on the first play to kick start the possession. Central drove to the Gators 4 on their next possession as time expired.

It only took Central four plays to get on the board on the second possession of the game when Briscoe pitched to DeQuincy Brown on a reverse and Brown passed to lineman Josh Watts from 7 yards for a touchdown. Thibodeaux’s kick gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. Briscoe connected with Nick Giglio down the right sideline for 35-yards to start the drive and then hit Miles Juneau for another 15 yards.

“It was something we worked on all week and we felt would be open,” Edwards said of the trick play. “We will take that every week. It is always big when you can start a game off in that manner.”

Jared Ghoram recovered a Gator fumble on the next series at the St. Amant 37 and Dunn’s 2-yard touchdown run off left tackle capped the Wildcats’ ensuing 8-play drive. Briscoe connected with Dunn for 14 and 24 yards to fuel the possession. Thibodeaux’s kick made it 14-0 with 4:03 left to play in the first quarter.

St. Amant answered on the next series when Adrian Bourgeois’ 2-yard run into the end zone capped the Gator’s 8-play, 54-yard drive. Vaughn returned the kickoff 39 yards and Bourgeois ran for 32 yards on the possession. LeBlanc’s 19-yard pass completion on fourth down to Bonadona, whose fumble was  recovered by Michael McDonald, set up the score.

“I think there was a lot of positives,” Oliver said. “The main thing was that our kids battled and competed hard. We just have to learn how to make plays in clutch situations. There are a few plays that dictate the outcome of a ball game and I think we are closing the gap.”

Central drove 61 yards on the ensuing possession behind Cutno’s 20-yard run and Briscoe’s 13-yard pass to Corey Ball but Thibodeaux’s 39-yard field goal attempt was wide left.

Marlon Bourgeois intercepted Briscoe two possessions later but Brandon Temple recovered Bourgeois’ fumble two plays later. Central capped the ensuing 59-yard drive four plays later when Briscoe hit Dunn out of the backfield for a 29-yard catch and run into the end zone. Thibodeaux’s kick gave Central a 21-7 lead with 5:08 left to play in the half.

“Every time we got close we made a critical error that benefited Central,” Oliver said. “You can’t take anything away from them but we hurt ourselves.”

St. Amant drove to the Wildcat 17 on the next possession behind Vaughn’s 41-yard catch and run and LeBlanc’s 21-yard keeper but Taylor Jenkins’ sacked LeBlanc on fourth down.

Briscoe completed 20 of 32 passes for 268 yards and rushed for 47 yards on nine carries. Dunn led Central with 64 yards on 13 carries and also caught three passes for 67 yards.

Jointer led the Gators rushing attack with 61 yards on 11 carries. Bourgeois added 60 yards on 11 carries, while LeBlanc provided 23 yards on nine attempts and passed for 68 yards completing 3 of 8 attempts. LeBlanc and Bourgeois both left the game.

“We feel like we are going to have a good football team,” Oliver said. “We will never use the term youth or inexperience as an excuse but we have a lot of guys that are growing into the system and they are learning on the fly.

“I thought that our kids battled hard. We got new systems on all sides of the ball and it is kind of like having to teach yourself how to walk again. We are learning as we go and we are getting better and better play by play and there is a lot of progress that the common eye can’t see but we are making improvements.”

St. Amant hosts St. Charles Catholic Friday night at The Pit at 7 p.m. for homecoming.