2021 Madison Prep At Sterlington

LHSAA 3A Quarterfinals, pllayed at Panther Stadium, Sterlington, La. 2021Nov26 . Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen.c.2021.www.TomMorrisPhoto s.com. All Rights Reserved

Appropriately, Fats Domino’s classic, “I'm Walking to New Orleans,” blared over the Panther Stadium speaker system as the crowd filed out following Friday night’s Class 3A semifinal tilt.

Sterlington may not be walking to New Orleans, but the top-seeded Panthers (14-0)  are headed to the LHSAA Prep Classic in the Superdome for the fifth time in school history on the strength of a 38-0 demolition of No. 5 Church Point.

No. 7 Union Parish knocked off No. 3 St. Martinville 45-26 in the lower half of the bracket to set up an All-District 2-3A championship tilt. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Caesar’s Superdome.

A week after dethroning defending state champion Madison Prep, 40-34, in overtime, the Panthers encountered minimal resistance in an anti-climactic semifinal.

Church Point (13-1) deferred on the toss, and the Panthers needed just 49 seconds to cover 70 yards on five plays.

With the Panthers facing third-and-short from their own 39, quarterback Mason Lawhon kept on the option for 16 yards. An additional 15-yard mark off for unsportsmanlike conduct agains the Bears, moved the Panthers to the visitors’ 33.

Bryce Lark then shook a tackler at the line of scrimmage en route to a spectacular 23-yard run to the 10.

From there, J’Keldrick Miller took a pitch to the right side, and split a pair of defenders inside the five to open the scoring.

Jacob Green, who was perfect on five PAT attempts, added the convert to make it 7-0.

Sterlington’s offensive line of Peyton Parks-Smith, Edmun Williams, Jordan Johnson, Brendan McNair, Mitch Hodnett and tight ends Tony Rivera and Grant Hanna had set the tone against a defense, which held its first 11 opponents to 40 points (two of the Bears’ victories were by forfeit).

“We knew we had to account for No. 50 (Javen Gibson) and No. 51 (Jamarion Citizen),” Parks-Smith said. “Our game plan was to shut those two guys down, and let our backs do what they do.”

Led by Lark (nine carries, 93 yards), six different Panthers combined for 309 yards on 47 carries.

Although Church Point came into the semifinals with six shutouts to its credit, Sterlington coach Lee Doty was more concerned with the Bears’ offense.

After all, the last time the two sides met, the Panthers squeaked by the Bears in a wild 57-56 multi-overtime shootout in the second round of the 2018 playoffs.

“They had only been behind once all year, and they came right back and tied it up,” Doty said. “They had not been in a tight game.”

This one didn’t turn out to be tight, either, to Doty’s surprise.

“I really thought we could score some points on them, but I wasn’t so sure we would be able to stop them,” Doty said. “The knock on Sterlington, and me in particular, is we haven’t been able to stop the Wing-T.

“I don’t guess people can say that anymore.”

No, they can’t.

Sterlington was equally dominant on the defensive side, limiting the Bears’ vaunted rushing attack to 149 years on 37 carries and 170 total yards.

Starting from its own 20 after Green’s kickoff went for a touchback, Church Point managed a first down on its initial possession before Caleb Andrews’ six-yard sack brought on the punting unit.

“We had a good game plan, and we were able to execute it,” Andrews said. “We wanted to get penetration up front, and play fast and physical. It was huge for our offense to come out and score on their first possession. We kind of fed off of the momentum, and never let them get into any kind of rhythm.”

Chandler Guillory’s 61-yard punt backed the Panthers up to their own 16.

Unfazed, the Panthers doubled their lead to 14-0 just two plays later as Lawhon found John Barr for 77 yards on a deep route.

Church Point went three-and-out on its next series before Green’s 37-yard field goal wrapped up the first quarter scoring with the Panthers up 17-0.

After forcing a third straight Church Point punt, the Panthers scored on their fourth consecutive possession.

Trammell Colvin’s 21-yard burst highlighted a seven-play, 70-yard drive, which culminated with Miller’s 12-yard TD jaunt. Miller’s second touchdown of the evening put the Panthers in command 24-0 with 6:42 to play in the half.

Church Point countered with its most promising drive.

Guillory’s 25-yard pass to Kainen LeJeune and Tylon Citizen’s 15-yard run helped the Bears cross into Sterlington territory for the first time.

The drive eventually stalled at the 21 when Jay Bonner stopped a fourth down running play for no gain.

“That was a huge stop because they were getting the ball to start the second half,” Doty said. “If we give up a score there, they have a chance to get right back in it.”

Taking over on downs with 1:21 remaining in the half, the Panthers quickly advanced to the Church Point 13 with the aid of a facemask penalty and Lark’s 33-yard scamper.

However, the drive came unraveled after a holding penalty, and Green’s 47-yard field goal fell short as the horn sounded.

Sterlington made another defensive stop on the first series of the second half.

Church Point moved from its own 21 to the Sterlington 26. Pressure from Luke Handy resulted in an incomplete pass on third-and-nine before Kellan Hall’s 34-yard interception return flipped the field position.

Taking over at the Church Point 42, the Panthers extended the margin to 31-0 on Lark’s 16-yard touchdown run.

Sterlington wrapped up the scoring with a methodical 15-play, 64-yard drive on Remaj Hatfield’s 2-yard run with 3:52 on the clock.

Moments later, Cliff Jones’ interception sealed the shutout for the Panthers.

Doty wasn’t quite ready to turn the page to the upcoming game against The U. There will be plenty of time to discuss the Farmers in the days ahead.

“I’m going to enjoy this one for the time being,” Doty said as multiple players stopped by his office. “I still don’t know all the rules and regulations we are going to have to deal with next week. Right now, my mind’s on the Sterlington Panthers.”

Andrews was a little more willing to talk about the state championship game. A freshman when the Panthers lost to Eunice, 59-47, in the 2018 state finals, Andrews is looking for redemption.

“That game left a real bad taste in my mouth,” Andrews said. “We have a great senior class, and we have worked real hard to get back to the Dome. We just have to finish the job.”

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