The Airline Vikings put up a scrappy fight against a highly favored Zachary on Friday in their Class 5A quarterfinal showdown in Bossier City.
In the end, however, the Broncos did more than enough to win, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 34-24 victory that sends them into the 5A semifinals.
No. 4-seeded Zachary (11-2) will face No. 1-seeded West Monroe.
Despite giving up three long touchdown passes from Zachary’s Keilon Brown to RJ Allen (54 yards) and two to Trea Shropshire (50 and 53 yards), the feisty Vikings were in the game, tied at 24, after Brandon Marshall returned an interception for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter.
But the Broncos got a 45-yard field goal from Martell Fontenot midway through the fourth quarter. Brown sealed the deal with a 1-yard TD plunge with 3:27 remaining.
“We just did not execute in the first half and that was the difference,” Airline coach Bo Meeks said. “But we came back and fought hard in the second half and gave ourselves a chance. Nobody expected us to be here.”
Seven weeks ago, no one expected the Vikings to make it to the quarterfinal round of the 5A playoffs. After losing unceremoniously on their home field to Parkway, then losing starting quarterback Brad Fream, the season appeared to be headed down the drain for Airline.
Airline principal Jason Rowland, who has undergone a couple of operations over the past few months, watched his first Vikings football game since early October and was excited about something else.
Friday’s game was just the third time in the quarterfinals for a Vikings football team in the past 20 years.
Airline senior speedster Coby McGee was left in tears after a strong performance that saw him catch eight Jordan Gladney passes for 72 yards. Fellow senior Braden Thibodeaux put the loss behind him moments following the final horn.
“Jordan did a great job picking up the offense when Brad went down,” said Thibodeaux, who will attend Louisiana Tech next fall. “We executed well in the second half and the defense made a couple of big plays. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t pull through.”
Zachary came in with a well-respected defense, but the Vikings had little trouble moving the ball throughout night. Airline quarterback Jordan Gladney hit Nate Fullilove for a 47-yard score in the second quarter, then pushed in a score from 1-yard out in the third.
But it wasn’t enough on this night, as Brown found the Airline secondary to his liking and used Darweshi Sanders as a pummel back throughout the evening. Sanders picked up 77 yards with his longest scamper, a 22-yarder.
Meeks told his team they had no reason to be down on themselves.
“I could not and would not be more proud of you guys if you had won that game,” Meeks said to his team. “Not winning this game does not change what you’ve done — what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve become.”