The football playoffs in Louisiana won’t officially start until next week.
During the days leading up to Friday night’s game at Central, Live Oak coach Brett Beard told his Eagles their playoffs would begin in this regular-season finale.
“We felt like we had to win to get in,” Beard said.
The Eagles responded, taking a 24-21 win over Central to secure their first trip to Class 5A’s postseason since 2012.
Live Oak’s defense paved the way, as it has all season, by putting constant pressure on quarterback Gabe Brown and holding its District 4-5A rival to under 100 yards of total offense.
In the process, the Eagles left the Wildcats to wonder if their season may be over.
Live Oak (6-4) and Central (5-5) entered Week 10 with similar spots in the 5A power ratings, identical 2-2 marks in 4-5A and a common sense of urgency.
Central missed the playoffs last year for the first time with Sid Edwards as the coach.
“It’s kind of like the NCAA tournament. We’ll be bracket-watching now,” Edwards said. “We preached pretty much we needed to win to get in, but we’ll see. A lot can happen.”
Live Oak took its largest lead at 24-14 when Nathan Holliday converted a 39-yard field goal try with 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
But after Brown scrambled for a 16-yard score with 6:32 remaining, the Eagles turned again to their defense as Central took over at its own 26 with a little more than two minutes to play and still trailing by three.
The Wildcats picked up one first down before Live Oak forced four straight incompletions.
Brown finished 10 for 23 for 98 yards with one interception and was sacked three times. Central had minus-2 rushing yards on 19 tries, including a 32-yard loss on a botched snap on a first-half punt attempt.
“We knew what we were up against coming in,” Edwards said. “I feel like they’re the best defense in the district.”
The game was marred by 21 penalties by the teams for 166 combined yards, starting with a 15-yard personal foul against Central for taunting the Live Oak sideline before the opening kickoff.
But the first 24 minutes were as whacky as they were sloppy.
Central scored the game’s first points on a third-down pass by Gabe Brown that went in and out of the hands of a Live Oak defender near the goal line and ricocheted to Josh Herbert for a 20-yard touchdown.
Another bouncing ball led to Live Oak’s first score as Jordan Davies intercepted a Brown pass that deflected off teammate Kyle Knapps’ cleat around midfield and raced to the end zone for a 7-6 lead.
Central answered Live Oak’s wild defensive score with one of its own.
Ethan Delaughter recovered a Dylan Wing fumble in the Live Oak backfield and lateraled to defensive back Edgar Janise, who went untouched to complete the 40-yard score.
Live Oak then scored 14 unanswered points, first on Wang’s 31-yard TD pass to Hunter Kelley and then on Will Higginbotham’s 3-yard run following Central’s botched punt.
Higginbotham, who sat out the Scotlandville game with an ankle injury, had 19 carries for 54 yards and two catches for 40 more in his return.
“We’ve just got to do what we’re taught to do at a level we’re capable of, and we’ve got a chance,” Beard said. “We belong here.”