CENTRAL — While watching film in preparation for Ponchatoula High School this week, Central quarterback Brett Courville said he felt confident the Wildcats could find a way to crash through the Green Wave’s defense.
The Wildcats, who scored 38 points in the second quarter, exploited those keys and dispatched Ponchatoula 52-28 in Class 5A first-round playoff action at Wildcat Stadium on Friday night.
Courville lit up the Green Wave with a game-high 148 yards on the ground and another 163 yards through the air to lead the winning effort.
Two of his first five rushing attempts went for touchdowns of 67 and 54 yards right through the heart of the Green Wave defense as the hosts scored all the points they would need before the half.
Courville called it “scheming them up.”
“We saw they were putting too many people on the edge because they seemed like they were afraid of our screen game. They only had one linebacker and he was hitting on the fakes,” Courville said. “Our offensive line created some huge holes for me to run through.
“When we saw on film how they run their defense we thought we could put a lot of points on the board.”
The only blemish on Courville’s record was an interception return for a touchdown by Ponchatoula defensive back Chris Cross late in the first quarter..
The senior signal-caller entered the game with 1,997 yards and just five interceptions on the season.
The game pitted No. 4 seed Central (9-1) against No. 29 Ponchatoula (5-4). But even though Central claimed the District 4-5A championship, Wildcats coach Sid Edwards wasn’t convinced the game would be a cakewalk.
He did relax a bit, however, when the Wildcats went wild late in the second quarter and piled up 17 points in 40 seconds.
The scoring spurt was triggered by an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by junior Gary Triplett when the Wildcats were hanging on to a 28-21 lead.
Courville later found Triplett and Devon Gales for touchdown passes of 73 and 26 yards and kicker Greg Noel tacked on a 29-yard field goal just before the half.
Edwards said the kickoff return swung the momentum in Central’s favor.
“That was a huge play, and turned the game around for us,” he said. “At that point, I was feeling pretty good, but I’ve been around long enough to know that you can’t stop playing.”
Edwards credited the work of the defensive coaching staff led by Ken Hilton.
“We had to find a way to defend their veer option, and they did a great job preparing the team. The offense gets all the attention, but you win games with great defense,” Edwards said.
Edwards also credited the Green Wave and coach Hank Tierney for playing hard and disciplined.
“This is not coach Tierney’s first rodeo. They are a very well-coached team. I was impressed with their team and their young quarterback,” Edwards said. “Offensively, we just saw some areas we could exploit and we did. Then our defense settled in and got some stops.”
Ponchatoula quarterback Christian Campbell ran the team’s veer option to some success in the first half. He scored on an 8-yard run and threw to senior Lamarkez Spears for a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Tierney, who has 233 career wins and led his team into the state playoffs for the second straight year, complimented the Wildcats on their execution and wished them well in the playoffs.
“I’ve been around a long time and they’re as good a team as I’ve seen. They deserved to win and they have a great program. I wish them the best,” he said.
The game resembled a track meet in the early stages with the contenders trading touchdowns until Central took a 21-14 lead at the end of the first quarter on an 80-yard run by Lamontae Juneau.
The Wildcats held firm on defense and then mounted a five-play scoring drive capped by Courville’s 54-yard run.
Ponchatoula answered with an eight-play scoring drive of its own. Campbell connected with Spears for a 29-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-21 midway through the second period.
That’s when Central stomped on the accelerator as Triplett took the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown.
The Wildcats defense then stepped up on the next possession when Ponchatoula drove down into Central’s red zone and faced fourth-and-1 at the 10-yard line. But Campbell fumbled the handoff exchange and defensive lineman Eddie Anderson recovered.
Central used the momentum to spark a 73-yard touchdown toss from Courville to Triplett three plays later.
Edwards called for the team’s second on-side kick of the game and sophomore Kevin Henry recovered for the hosts.
The Wildcats then quickly scored on a touchdown pass from Courville to Gales and Noel tacked on a 29-yard field goal to give the hosts a 52-21 lead and all the points they would need.