Episcopal’s defense preserved a tenuous touchdown lead for as long as it possibly could.
Then the bottom fell out.
Ninth-seeded Northlake Christian rallied a seven-point halftime deficit with 20 consecutive fourth-quarter points and then fended a last-gasp effort from eighth-seeded Episcopal for a 27-21 first round Division III state playoff victory Friday.
“They stuck to their plan and kept pounding it and wearing us down,” said Episcopal coach Travis Bourgeois, whose defense repelled five Northlake drives in its own territory through three quarters. “At the end our defense was on the field so long they finally broke.”
Northlake Christian advances to next Friday’s quarterfinal round at top-seeded Catholic-New Iberia, which knocked the Wolverines out of the playoffs a year ago.
“I’m proud of the kids for coming back down 14 on the road against a good team,” Northlake coach Anthony Agresta said. “That’s something to feel good for.”
During a nine-minute stretch of the fourth quarter Northlake Christian scored on three straight series, erasing a 14-7 halftime deficit and taking its first lead with 4:03 remaining to be played.
Quarterback Joshua Landry, whose 59-yard touchdown to tight end Gary Sampson accounted for the team’s first score in the second quarter, scored from 3 yards out and Miguel Black added the two-point conversion from Matt Whelan.
After forcing a three-and-out the Wolverines extended that margin to 27-14 with 2:35 left on Adam Riche’s 1-yard run after a key 20-yard completion from Landry to Richard Humphrey on fourth down.
Episcopal (7-3) closed to within the final score with an 11-play drive that covered 60 yards in 1 minute, 31 seconds with T.J. Wisham scoring from 4 yards out with 59 seconds still showing.
However, Trevor Bisson’s onside attempt was recovered by Taj Porter at the 45-yard line and Northlake ran out the rest of the clock.
“Our kids fought until the end and gave ourselves a chance with an onside kick and that’s all you can ask for,” Bourgeois said. “To put your kids in a position to win, and our guys did that.”
Northlake rushed 50 times for 203 yards with 141 of those coming on 30 carries in the second half. The Wolverines outgained the Knights 160-63 in the final 24 minutes with 60 of those coming on the home team’s final drive.
Black, the state’s 10th leading rusher with 1,586 yards, gained 80 of his team-high 110 yards after halftime and it was his 1-yard run with 11:17 left in the game that pulled Northlake to within 14-13.
Wisham led Episcopal with 20 carries for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns, pushing his final total for the year to 1,101 yards.
Episcopal built a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter when Wisham scored on a 7-yard run around the left side on third-and-goal.
Wide receiver Spencer Kleinpeter got behind coverage and hauled in William D’Armond’s well-thrown pass at the Wolverines’ 35-yard line, slipped a tackle and completed a 78-yard scoring play on first down with 2:43 left in the opening quarter.
D’Armond completed 11 of 26 passes for 135 yards with four of those going to Evan Lawson for 57 yards.
“We stressed to the kids there’s two good teams playing and both teams are going to make plays and get excited,” Agresta said. “It’s not about the winning the battle but winning the war.”