Hours before taking on Pineville in a pivotal district clash, Matt Middleton stressed just how urgent it was for his team to handle business against a two-win Class 5A team.
And there weren’t any mind games going on with West Ouachita’s head coach.
The Chiefs felt like they could have success against Pineville, just as Pineville felt the same about West Ouachita heading into the rainy Friday night contest.
But in the end, it was the Chiefs defense allowing just one red zone score in five Pineville trips that allowed West Ouachita to take a pivotal 17-10 victory. The win gave West Ouachita six wins for the first time since 2015.
“I’m geeked,” West Ouachita head coach Matt Middleton said. “It was pins and needles all week. But the kids got after it and believed. Six wins is huge. I’m fired up.”
The power points made West Ouachita’s future plans clear — in order to make the playoffs, the Chiefs had to win one more game. Because the teams that West Ouachita defeated early into the season struggled to collect wins in the front half of the season, just going .500 wasn’t going to cut it for West Ouachita. And Middleton knew it.
“The hard part is to go and tell the kids that,” Middleton said. “We needed to win one of the next three. I know how good Ruston and ASH are. I know this was our opportunity to go and get that. I think this puts us in. But we still need some things to happen.”
Entering a matchup against a struggling Pineville squad Friday night, West Ouachita knew it had to handle business at home. And that the Chiefs did.
Early on it was the defense.
West Ouachita’s defensive unit shined in the first quarter. The Chiefs snuffed out a 4th-and-9 attempt on Pineville’s first possession when linebacker Luke Middleton tackled Andrew Frazier shy of the first down marker. One series later, Reid Guirlando made an impact yet again, but instead of making his fifth interception of the year, he made his presence felt on special teams. Guirlando blocked a 28-yard field goal attempt after Tobias Owens drug a Pineville rusher down in the backfield on third down. Guirlando’s block kept the first quarter scoreless but also provided some momentum for the ensuing offensive possession.
“Him blocking that and big stop and scores...,” Middleton said. “We stopped them five times on fourth down. What more can you ask for?”
Kohl Nolan ripped off three first down runs of 12 yards or more, including a 12-yard touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 7-0 advantage. Nolan recorded 70 rushing yards on 14 carries. Owens led the Chiefs with 106 yards on 20 carries, while Alfred Cole gained 97 yards on 17 rushes.
Pineville fumbled on the ensuing drive and Chiefs defensive back Jacob Spradlin jumped on the loose ball in West Ouachita territory. The Chiefs then churned out a 14-play drive that covered 63 yards and culminated in a 28-yard field goal from Luke Stagg. Stagg’s field goal allowed the Chiefs to have a 10-0 lead with three minutes remaining in the half.
“They loaded a 50-front, so we started running toss,” Middleton said. “They made the adjustment and moved the guy out, so we started running between the tackles.”
Owens ripped off a couple of long runs on the drive to help give the Chiefs a double-digit halftime lead. Chandler Simpson ensured the Chiefs would go into the half with that 10-point advantage after sacking Pineville quarterback Darnell Bayonne on third down. Bayonne completed just 7-of-18 passes for 88 yards.
The Chiefs held the Rebels to 83 total yards at halftime. Meanwhile, West Ouachita did not attempt a pass and rushed for 168 yards at the break.
Just like that...
The first play of the second half completely changed the complexion of the game.
Frazier bounced a handoff outside for a 54-yard touchdown run to reduce the Chiefs lead to three in a matter of seconds
A three-and-out, followed by a short punt, placed Pineville at West Ouachita’s 45-yard line less than two minutes later. After eight plays, Pineville faced a 4th-and-1 on the goal line. Pineville tossed the ball to Frazier, and a group of Chiefs defenders caught him behind the line and dropped him for a loss. Dillon Williams was the first Chief to hit him.
Frazier ultimately rushed for 190 yards on 18 carries for Pineville in the loss.
Pineville threatened again late in the quarter, but Montana King sacked Bayonne on a fourth down attempt.
The Chiefs defense didn’t get much of a breather after the turnover on downs, though. After West Ouachita bobbled a pitch on the ensuing drive, the defense headed back out to try and limit the damage once again. But this time Pineville was getting to start its drive at West Ouachita’s 32-yard line, and the Chiefs would lose a defender…
A scary situation unfolded in the fourth quarter when Clay Norris went down with an injury. The Chief defensive lineman was moving his arms and legs but had his facemask and shoulder pads cut off of him before being placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance.
Norris’ teammates rallied and didn’t allow a single yard before forcing yet another turnover on downs to give West Ouachita the football back with 10 minutes remaining.
Thanks to a 44-yard run by Cole followed by an 11-yard touchdown run from Owens, the Chiefs extended their lead to 10 midway through the fourth quarter.
Pineville got within a touchdown thanks to Will Roche’s 28-yard field goal, but the Chiefs defense held on to the 17-10 win.
“You look at us, and we don’t match up against many athletically,” Middleton said. “We know it. They know it. But these kids are going to play hard before anything else.”
Up next for the (6-2) Chiefs is a road contest against Ruston.