Ouachita head coach Todd Garvin made himself a promise after a 56-55 double overtime loss against Ruston one week earlier. He laid his head on his pillow full of regret after he called a fake PAT that came up short, and he vowed to never do that again.
Garvin didn't have to wait long to fulfill that promise. One week later, staring at a 34-33 deficit in double overtime against a West Monroe team that has beaten Ouachita 27 consecutive times, Garvin put the ball in the hands of his playmaker.
Ouachita quarterback Zach Jackson got under center and tossed a sweep to Carldell Sirmons on a two-point try for the game-winner that immediately emptied the student section onto the field.
“I knew in my mind that if we had an opportunity again, I was going to get the ball in the hands of our players' hands and let them make a play,” Garvin said. “It feels really good to be a former Lion, having graduated from here and played ball here, to be the guy to lead Ouachita to a victory against West Monroe. But again, it’s about the kids. I didn’t play tonight. They kids did. They deserve all the credit.”
Tears flowed. Hugs were shared. The party was on out at Millhaven, and fans were taking pictures in front of the 35-34 final score.
“Speechless,” said Ouachita linebacker Carmycah Glass as he bent down to catch his breath. “It’s unbelievable. This doesn’t even feel real. I don’t even know what’s going on right now. I’m still in the moment.”
Sirmons, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry and 19 yards per catch in the contest, was Garvin’s biggest offensive threat on the night, and Garvin felt this was his best chance to end a historic streak. The gamble paid off with a celebration Ouachita fans won't soon forget.
There’s an alternate reality where that decision is never made, though. After Ouachita scored on its first possession of overtime (a six-yard Sirmons run), the Lions missed their ensuing PAT. West Monroe star tailback Rayshawn Pleasant scored from 10 yards to tie the game, 27-27, on the very next play. Before the potential game-winning PAT, Glass found fellow senior Jaylen Kincaid and asked him to make a play.
“I told Kincaid, ‘Go get it. Let’s make up for last week.’ He went and got it,” Glass said.
Kincaid came off the edge and blocked the PAT to send the two teams into double overtime. With tears flowing after the game, Kincaid recalled the moment with Glass.
“Players and coaches are depending on you,” Kincaid said. “When they say go get it, I got no other choice but to. Being a senior, I thank God for this. This was my last chance to beat ‘em.”
A dejected West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge was disappointed in the final outcome, but gave credit to the Lions for ending West Monroe’s 100-game district win streak.
“I really feel like I didn’t have our guys well enough prepared,” Arledge said. “I told them, 'If you want to blame somebody, blame me.’ In that second half, they just outplayed us. They played harder than we did. I know our kids played hard, but overall it just breaks my heart for these kids. At the same time I know what a great job Todd Garvin and his staff have done this year. Remarkable.”
Hours before the contest against West Monroe, Garvin listed all the things that had to go the Lions way in order to end the losing streak to West Monroe. Among those was not giving up the big play on special teams. And wouldn’t you know it, Garvin’s worst-case scenario played out to open the second half.
Leading 7-0 to start the third quarter, West Monroe defensive back Javari Sanders violently stiff armed a Lion defender and patiently weaved his way through Ouachita players before turning on the burners on an 85-yard kickoff return that put the Rebs up, 14-0.
“I knew we couldn’t give up the big play,” Garvin said. “We gave up a big toss. That special teams score. But our kids are resilient. They didn’t give in at that moment. They won the second half obviously and scored more than they did to get us back in the ballgame. I’m just so proud of our young men and excited to be a part of this.”
Though Ouachita fell behind 14-0, the Lions would go on to outscore West Monroe, 21-7, through the remainder of regulation.
Ouachita’s defense kept the Lions in the hunt. On Ouachita's first defensive series, three straight negative plays ultimately resulted in a Micah Bell fumble that was picked up by Phil Bradford, who returned it all the way to the Rebels 3-yard line.
A penalty on first down forced the Lions to score from 12 yards out, but the offense was up for the task. After West Monroe linebackers Chauncey Lee and Tag Banks stuffed Ouachita running back Marcell Henderson on third down, Henderson powered his way in from a yard out on a toss. Henderson rushed for 34 yards and one score on 15 carries.
But the big play struck again, and this time it was West Monroe’s offense. Pleasant scored on an 82-yard run right up the middle, untouched. Pleasant entered the ballgame less than 100 percent with an ankle injury, but he still managed to rush for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
Ouachita had an answer. Chaunkiveon "Chunky" Lewis made a diving reception on a 38-yard pass on the ensuing possession. That set up a 23-yard touchdown run from Sirmons on the very next play to make it a 21-13 contest. Sirmons rushed for 51 yards and three touchdowns on nine rushes.
Down 21-13, Jackson went to work and found his safety valves on crucial third down conversions. Jackson hit Sirmons and Henderson on those third-down pickups during the Lions’ 12-play 79-yard fourth quarter scoring drive. Jackson scored on a sneak before Sirmons bulled his way in on the two-point try to tie the game.
One week after scoring 55 points against Ruston, the Lions offense hit a brick wall named West Monroe in the first half. Ouachita totaled just 60 first-half yards on 25 plays in the first two quarters, as the Rebels took a 7-0 lead into the locker room.
West Monroe’s defense couldn’t have asked for a better start to the contest. Hayden Stewart and Wyatt Bagwell set the line of scrimmage and recorded tackles for loss on the opening series, as the Lions went in reverse on a three-and-out. The Lions went three-and-out on their first two possessions.
West Monroe had an equally fast start on offense. The lone score in the first half came on the opening drive from the Rebels. That drive featured play-actions and bootlegs, but there wasn’t a whole lot of fancy play-design involved in the Rebels’ opening scoring drive. Instead, the Rebels leaned on their offensive line to create some space up front. After completing two passes, quarterback Hayden Federico transformed a busted play into a 16-yard gain, as he reversed field and Ouachita over pursued on the play-action pass. That placed the Rebels inside the red zone. The Rebels marched it all the way down to the one, but after Federico was stuffed at the goal line on third down, the Rebels chose to toss it to Chauncey Lee for the one-yard score. Freshman Caden Willis actually got the start at tailback, but Lee polished off the drive with the score. Pleasant entered the game on the second offensive series.
Ouachita out-gained the Rebels, 279-256, in total yards. Jackson completed seven-of-18 passes for 127 yards while also leading the Lions in rushing with 67 yards and one score on 15 carries.
The Rebels were just one-of-12 on third-down conversions and had just 18 passing yards in the game. All 18 of those yards came on the first drive for the Rebels.
The (4-3) Rebels will look to rebound against Pineville Friday night, while the (5-3) Ouachita Lions host Alexandria.