During the summer, Port Allen High football coach Guy Blanchard wasn’t sure who his team’s starting quarterback would be.
Darian Claiborne, a top linebacker, was an untested commodity in the backfield. He was one of three players in the running for the quarterback job.
The scene in the Port Allen field house Monday provided an illustration of how things have changed for Claiborne and the Pelicans. Claiborne handles the remote while watching the video of his game-changing 73-yard touchdown run that helped put Port Allen in the football quarterfinals for the first time.
“It was a screen right, and they (Loranger) blitzed that way,” Claiborne explained. “I don’t remember anybody grabbing me, but they did. I just spun out and around.
“Then I motioned to Ricky (Merritt, running back) to block the defender by him. What a block … and when I got in the open field I knew I had to go with it.”
The TD run by the 6-foot-1?, 214-pound Claiborne and the point-after kick by Ricky Decuir with 1:06 remaining carried the 14th-seeded Pelicans to a 14-13 victory over No. 3 Loranger and the first quarterfinal berth in the 64-year history of the school.
Several other PAHS coaches complained when Blanchard called a timeout after the TD run. The rationale was simple. Blanchard wanted to give the junior quarterback-linebacker a brief chance to rest after the electrifying run. After all, he had to hold for that all-important extra point.
If it seems like Claiborne has a hand in just about everything Port Allen does, it’s because he does. In addition to playing quarterback, he is also the team’s top tackler for the second straight year. He also punts.
And more than anything else, Claiborne relishes the chance to lead the Pelicans (10-2) into a Class 3A quarterfinal game on Friday night at No. 11 Parkview Baptist (8-3).
“Everybody around here is so excited,” Claiborne said. “Whenever we’re out in town, football is all the people want to talk about. That’s nice. We know there’s still plenty of work for us to do.”
The fact that Claiborne leads the Pelicans with 106 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss, is no surprise to those who have followed PAHS since the junior became a defensive starter four games into his freshman year.
It’s the offensive numbers that are eye-popping. To date, Claiborne has rushed for 1,153 yards and 19 TDs. He’s also 84-for-197 with 1,399 yards and 15 TDs as a passer.
“He’s got a high football IQ,” PAHS defensive coordinator Leonard Parker said. “He just understands the game. When we break down film, he picks it up like that.
“This year has been a challenge. At first, he wasn’t in shape to go both ways. We didn’t baby him, we told him what he needed to do and he did it.”
Blanchard recalls being reluctant to give Claiborne too much freedom on offense. That changed after the Pelicans edged another surprising quarterfinalist, McMain-New Orleans, early in the year.
“I decided we needed to go for it and be whoever we needed to be with Darian at quarterback,” Blanchard said. “He’s so accurate for a first-year starter. His stats are misleading, because we’ve had 23 dropped passes. He has faith in his teammates, and they have confidence in him. They pick each other up.”
In Parkview, Port Allen faces a familiar foe. The Pelicans lost to the Eagles in regular-season games the last two years.
Claiborne said the Pelicans relish the opportunity to play Parkview in the quarterfinals.
“They got me, and they got us pretty good last year,” Claiborne said. “This is a chance for us to show what we can do.”