Big plays spell doom for Gators in upset loss to Airline

Kyle Riviere
kriviere@weeklycitizen.com
St. Amant safety Ben Parker is brought down during a punt return in the Gators' 35-28 loss to Airline. Photo by Kyle Riviere.

St. Amant gave up some big plays through the air in the first round against Northshore, but they were able to overcome them to clinch a victory.

They couldn't pull off the encore on Friday night.

Twelfth-seeded Airline came into The Pit with an aggressive approach that saw them score on three plays of at least 62 yards. The Gators stayed within striking distance throughout, but some missed opportunities late translated into a 35-28 defeat.

"I thought they had a great plan. They're a well-coached team," St. Amant head coach David Oliver said. "They had some nice wrinkles They went for two or three onside kicks. We knew it was going to be a battle, and it was.

"It came down to the end, and they made one more play than us. Their plays were big. Our plays might have been smaller, but at the end of the day, they made one more than we did."

Right out of the opening bell, Airline landed a haymaker.

On the first play of the game, Coby McGee caught an 80-yard touchdown pass to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead just 12 seconds into the contest.

St. Amant got off of the canvas and put together an 11-play, 78-yard march that ended with a 13-yard touchdown connection from Halen Miller to Grant Alexander. Alexander had three catches for 52 yards on the drive.

With the game tied at 7-7, the Gators looked to take control as their defense forced a turnover on downs to start the second quarter.

The offense went on the move as they stretched the ball into Airline territory, but a trick play ended in disaster for the Gators.

Miller handed the ball to running back Cade Nelson. Nelson then tried a throwback to Miller, but his backward pass was snagged by Matt Salines and returned 60 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-7 halftime lead.

Nelson was limited to just 23 yards rushing through the first two quarters, but he more than doubled that output on the Gators' opening drive of the second half.

He carried the ball five times for 57 yards--including a 12-yarder that went for a touchdown. However, the extra point was missed.

Still up 14-13, McGee returned the ensuing kickoff for Airline to the Gator 48.

St. Amant actually turned the Vikings over on downs, but a holding call kept their drive alive.

Eventually, McGee came up with what the officials called a touchdown. Though, it appeared he dropped the ball once he hit the ground.

The score put them up 21-13, and on their next possession, McGee broke loose on a 77-yard touchdown run on an end-around to extend the advantage to 28-13 late in the third.

St. Amant got the ball back and drove all the way to the Viking 2-yard line, but Nelson was stuffed just short of the goal line on fourth down.

The Gators did get the ball back early in the fourth quarter and quickly got downfield. They cut the deficit to 28-20 with a two-yard touchdown run by Nelson.

St. Amant then forced a quick three-and-out, and after a shanked punt, they took over at the Airline 39.

Just two plays later, Nelson scored from 10 yards out.

On the 2-point try, St. Amant broke out the trickery again. Alexander got the ball on a double-reverse and threw it to a wide open Miller in the end zone to tie the game.

But on Airline's ensuing possession, the Gator defense was torched by C.J. George for a 62-yard touchdown reception.

With time running low, St. Amant moved the ball to the Viking 47, but on fourth-and-eight, a pass to Collier Ricks fell incomplete when a defender was able to rip the ball loose.

With the turnover on downs, Airline was able to run out the clock.

"They made the goal-line stand," Oliver said. "I know it's an old cliché that football is a game of inches, but it is. They stopped us at the inch line, and that cost us points. Championship teams make that, but I don't question our toughness or the heart and resolve of our players. It just didn't go our way tonight."

McGee gave the Gator defense fits. He had 135 yards receiving with two touchdowns, and he ran for 93 yards and a score.

In the losing effort, Miller went 15-29 for 240 yards and a touchdown. Alexander made seven catches for 154 yards and a score.

Nelson carried the ball 29 times for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

The loss ended a superb season for the Gators that saw them go 9-1 and win a share of the District 5-5A title.

"I was proud of our kids. We battled all night," Oliver said." We had a tremendous season and did a lot of things. They displayed their heart all year."