With a defender draped on his backside, Scotlandville receiver Chris Johnson still managed to haul in the first down throw down the right sideline, walking in for a touchdown.
The feat was eerily similar to one of Johnson’s favorite players — Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham.
The celebration, too.
“I was like, ‘If I get a touchdown, I have to dunk it,’ ” Johnson said with a wide grin. “Got it and did it.”
Johnson hauled in well-defended catches of 46 and 39 yards — his only two grabs of the game — in an electric first half to earn U.S. Army Red Stick Bowl Player of the Game honors as his Rattlers defeated the Black Knights 28-21 on Sunday at Olympia Stadium.
His 46-yard grab, thrown from Walker quarterback Terry Bozeman III and caught between two defenders, put the Rattlers at the goal line, allowing bruising Zachary running back Terry Sullivan to power in for the game’s first score.
“I’ve had to defend him for the last two years,” said Rattlers head coach Ken Hilton, who served the last two seasons as Central’s defensive coordinator. “It didn’t really surprise me, but it goes to show what kind of caliber player he is. The way he carries himself as a person, an individual, he is a football player 100 percent. Has a high spirit. I’m anxious to see him play football at the next level.”
Johnson, a Tulane commitment, hauled in the second catch from Silliman quarterback Zach Kelly and answered a Black Knights scoring drive that had cut into an early 14-0 lead.
“I had a great senior year, so just to come out and be selected to play in this game, it was all good,” Johnson said. “I played against some great cornerbacks and I had to make some great balls. The ball don’t always come to you, so as a receiver you have to adjust to the ball, go get it.”
Sullivan, named one of the game’s two outstanding running backs, carried the ball a game-high 15 times for 68 yards. Live Oak running back Will Higginbotham added 57 yards on nine carries, and Kelly scampered for 54 to lead a Rattlers offense that rushed for 233 yards.
Kelly was also the game’s most efficient passer, finishing 4-for-7 for 77 yards and a touchdown, while Bozeman was 5-for-6 for 48 yards.
Splitting time quarterbacking the Black Knights were Catholic’s Ian Brian and Plaquemine’s dual-threat runner Austin Mitchell. Brian shook off an early interception to orchestrate a much-needed touchdown drive with his team down 14-0 and the first quarter nearing an end.
Brian found Plaquemine receiver Tyler Wesley for a 25-yard gain on third down before East Ascension running back Josh Bates took control, carrying the ball on the next three plays — the third a 4-yard score to cut the Knights’ deficit to 14-7.
After Johnson answered with the acrobatic touchdown, and the Rattlers put another score following Brian’s fourth-quarter interception, the Catholic quarterback snapped a streak of eight straight incompletions when he found Mitchell for a fourth down conversion on the ensuing drive.
Bates, who finished with 64 yards and two scores, rumbled 29 yards to paydirt on the next play to put the Knights within seven, the closest they came before the Rattlers melted the rest of the clock.
“Great game, very competitive,” Black Knights coach Paul Distefano said. “The difference in the game were (Johnson’s) big plays. He went up and got them, and they were the difference in the game. I don’t look back on any regrets. It’s been a great experience. My kids had a great attitude all week and overall just a great experience.”