CLINTON — Notre Dame-Crowley receiver Nick Benoit missed the chance to make a big play in the Pioneers’ lone loss to Teurlings Catholic early in the season.
Given another chance in the spotlight, the senior excelled, catching a 40-yard touchdown pass and a 49-yard pass to set up what proved to be the game-winning field goal as Notre Dame held off East Feliciana 16-14 in a Class 3A semifinal game played Friday night at East Feliciana Middle School.
“It was a great throw by a quarterback and we had the blocking,” Benoit said. “I’m just happy I got to make the play for the team.”
Benoit’s 89 yards on two catches and Brad Stoma’s 8-for-15 passing for 138 yards helped the Pioneers (12-1) advance to play Parkview Baptist (12-0) in the 3A title game set for 4 p.m. on Dec. 8.
Benoit’s 49-yard catch helped NDHS dig its way out of a first-and-30 hole and led to a 24-yard field goal by Dustin Reiners that boosted NDHS’ lead to 16-6 with 5:01 left in the game.
A 42-yard kickoff return by Timothy Thompson set the stage for East Feliciana (8-4) to rally like it had a week earlier in a win over Farmerville. Kendell Beckwith led a 28-yard drive that ended with Beckwith completing a 4-yard TD pass to Thocorence Hawkins with 2:28 remaining. Beckwith ran for the two-point conversion to get the Tigers within two, at 16-14.
But a penalty on EFHS’ attempted onside kick gave the ball to Notre Dame and the Pioneers netted a first down and ran out the clock. Austin Thibodeaux ran for 70 yards on 13 carries for Notre Dame.
“Brad stepped up and Nick made a heck of catch,” Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook said. “That and the way the defense played, and, of course, the field goal was big.”
Beckwith ran for a game-high 77 yards on 14 carries, passed for 92 yards and teamed with DeQuan Franklin to lead the EFHS defense.
“We have a lot of guys who play both ways, so we had to conserve energy with him (Beckwith) and some of our other players,” East Feliciana coach Cedric Anderson said. “We had too many missed opportunities and too many turnovers. It was a combination of things — they (the Pioneers) were a really good team and we didn’t make some of the plays we needed to make.”
Notre Dame garnered three first-half turnovers, with Hunter Stelly and Kipp Credeur recovering fumbles and Sam Veillon hauling in an interception. None of those plays led to a score as both teams put together a handful of drives. NDHS ran 26 first-half offensive plays, compared with 25 for East Feliciana.
The Pioneers scored first on a nine-play, first-quarter drive that covered 65 yards and took 4:04 off the clock. A 15-yard pass from Stoma to Austin Thibodeaux was the biggest play. John Michael Besse scored on a 5-yard run and Reiners added the PAT kick to give Notre Dame a 7-0 lead with 4:12 left in the first quarter.
East Feliciana countered with a drive that started late in the first quarter. Beckwith competed a 20-yard pass to Joshua Davis to jump-start the 66-yard drive. Beckwith also ran the ball for gains of 15 and 11 yards.
Danny Johnson caught a Beckwith pass on a crossing pattern and scored from 18 yards out, pulling the Tigers within one, at 7-6, with 10:53 to go in the half.
Notre Dame took advantage of a short EFHS punt to drive 36 yards in just three plays. One of those plays actually accounted for negative yardage. That’s why Nick Benoit’s TD pass from Stoma covered 40 yards.
The play looked familiar to the Tigers. Like their own scoring play, it came on a crossing pattern.
The Stoma-to-Benoit connection upped the NDHS lead to 13-6 with 3:42 remaining in the half.
Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards. The Tigers got to the NDHS 23 but turned the ball over on downs.