Eunice 59, Sterlington 47

Played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA . Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen

Sterlington’s dream season ended without a perfect ending Friday night, but the impact Sterlington has made in the last three seasons hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The No. 4 Panthers fell to the No. 2 Eunice Bobcats, 59-47, in the Class 3A State Championship Game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the Panthers made a return to New Orleans for the second time in three years despite moving up in classification. With a 24-4 record in its first two seasons in Class 3A, Eunice head coach Paul Trosclair certainly noticed Sterlington’s emergence in the classification.

“Our only two losses (this season) were the teams they beat to get here,” Trosclair said. “I thought we’d have trouble stopping them, but I didn’t think they’d score that many points. In the first half, everything went wrong. I’d say we had a quiet halftime. We made a couple of adjustments in the secondary and a couple upfront.”

Sterlington outgained Eunice 456 to 434 yards, but that didn’t stop Eunice from winning its first championship since 1982.

Twenty-unanswered points in the third quarter paved the way for the Bobcats victory, and even with the loss still fresh in his mind minutes after the game, Doty couldn’t help but lift his players up for the run they made in the 2018 postseason.

“I’m mighty proud of these guys,” Doty said. “They worked so hard. Nobody thought we’d make it here. But I’ll tell you, it’s tough to come out here and lose. This community that we have around us is just amazing, and I’m just sick I couldn’t bring it home for them.”

The championship encounter started with a bang.

The opening kickoff fell into the arms of C.J. Colvin, who a couple of months ago was a long shot to even suit up for the Panthers on the football field again. After missing the majority of the season with a partially torn ACL and returning just before the postseason began, Colvin received the opening kickoff of the state championship game, patiently let his blockers find a body and accelerated through a crease down the sideline for the opening score.

The momentum was short lived.

The ensuing kickoff was fielded by Jordan Ledet and returned for an 89-yard score that tied the game, 7-7. The lightning fast scores were a precursor to a night that featured many scores and few stops.

When Sterlington’s offense finally got onto the field, the Panthers featured a heavy dose of Dallas Reagor and Jordan Townsend out of the veer. Reagor continued his familiar song-and-dance, splitting defenders and breaking tackles while falling forward on a long scoring drive for the Panthers. Sterlington ended the 11-play, 68-yard scoring drive with a nine-yard Reagor run that, you guessed it, featured multiple broken tackles.

Eunice tied the game at 14 late in the first quarter. On a four-play, 53-yard drive that featured multiple jet sweeps, Simeon Ardoin found the end zone on a quarterback keeper.

Sterlington’s next drive was an all-you-can-eat buffet for Reagor. He continued to churn out yards and scored on a six-yard run, but the play of the drive was a 30-yard reception by Reid Handy. What looked to be an interception was contested in the air and deemed caught simultaneously by Handy. The “tie” went to the offense, thus Sterlington kept the ball and moved the chains on a long third-down conversion. A blocked PAT made the score 20-14 in favor of the Panthers.

Again Eunice wouldn’t go away. The Bobcats replicated another long, productive drive that featured many chunk run plays. The Bobcats faced a 4th-and-2 at Sterlington’s 10-yard line and converted with yet another jet sweep. Following Avrey Lee’s 9-yard jet sweep, Ardoin scored on a quarterback sneak. Cole Jones, who has had success blocking PATs all season long, came through with another block to keep Sterlington tied with the Bobcats midway through the second quarter.

Back came Sterlington with a 7-play, 64-yard scoring drive that culminated in a three-yard run from Townsend. And Eunice answered quickly with a 3-play drive that ended in a 59-yard score from Simeon Ardoin. Jones blew up a two-point conversion in the backfield to keep Sterlington ahead, 27-26.

The following drive Sterlington added to its lead when Layton Rainbolt beat bracket coverage and high-pointed a 33-yard touchdown reception.

With just 36 seconds remaining after Sterlington’s score, Eunice drove the ball inside Sterlington’s 10-yard line, and with six seconds left, Ardoin took a shot to the end zone but Townsend came down with the interception for the Panthers to end the half.

The Panthers and Bobcats combined for 60 points and 511 yards in the first half. Sterlington owned the time of possession (16:56 to 7:04), but Eunice’s big plays kept the Bobcats step for step with the Panthers.

The third quarter was all Eunice. Running back Avrey Lee threw back-to-back touchdowns to Tyler Darbonne to give the Bobcats the lead. Twice Lee took a jet sweep and pulled up to throw it to an open Darbonne. The first touchdown connection found Lee under heavy duress before he threw the ball up for grabs and had his receiver bail him out.

“We had seen it on the film,” Doty said. “We jumped it and the guy got behind us. The real play of the game was where the guy just threw it up and they caught it and scored.”

On the flip side, Sterlington struggled to get anything going at all on offense in the quarter. The Panthers were held scoreless and found themselves down 53-34 in the fourth quarter after Eunice recovered a fumble deep in Sterlington’s territory. That mishandled snap proved costly, as the Bobcats threw a 17-yard touchdown on the very next play to up by 19 points.

“They did a heck of a job adjusting,” Doty said. “They had one more hat than we could block.”

Reagor finished the game with 167 yards and two scores on 29 carries. Handy recorded 113 receiving yards on three catches, including a score.

Lee rushed for 87 yards and threw two touchdowns in the victory for Eunice.

Though the season ended on a sour note, Doty praised his team for its improvement over the course of the season. From a 3-2 start to a 12-3 finish in the Superdome, Panther fans had plenty to cheer for in 2018.

“It was just amazing to see how everybody came together as a team,” Doty said.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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