GONZALES — In a defensive slugfest Friday at Spartan Stadium, it was East Ascension that finished its few successful offensive drives, especially quarterback Kyran Irvin.
The senior, making his final regular-season home start, rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns as East Ascension kept its playoff hopes alive with a 16-0 shutout of McKinley.
The Spartans (4-5, 2-2 District 5-5A) rushed for 269 yards and turned four red-zone possessions into two touchdowns and a field goal.
“We didn’t just move the ball; we scored,” East Ascension coach Paul Bourgeois said. “That was huge.”
And the difference in the game.
In a relatively even first half, East Ascension took a 10-0 lead by converting both of its scoring opportunities into points while McKinley (3-6, 1-3) failed on two deep possessions.
Irvin capped an 82-yard drive on the Spartans’ first possession with a 2-yard touchdown run. East Ascension upped the lead in the second quarter with a 39-yard field goal by senior Cole Kernan.
McKinley could not capitalize on a couple of first-half chances. Sparked by a 31-yard pass from Christian Smith to Rae’quan Powell, the Panthers drove to the EA 29 before Spartans safety Johnny Baker intercepted Smith in the end zone, the first of Baker’s two interceptions of Powell.
Just before halftime, McKinley’s Joshua Joseph missed a 31-yard field goal that would have made it 10-3.
“And he can make those,” McKinley coach Robert Signater said. “But he’s had a bad back. They finished their drives, and we didn’t. If we could have scored on one of those, then it becomes a possession game in the second half and maybe we can run the ball more. But it wasn’t in the cards.”
Instead, EA, lacking a consistent passing game, was able to go into ball-control mode and burn off huge swaths of clock with Irvin leading the way. Another long Spartans drive — a 94-yard touchdown jaunt aided by a 15-yard run by Irvin on third-and-15, a roughing-the-passer penalty on third-and-long and then a 43-yard dash by Irvin — iced the game in the fourth quarter.
By the time Irvin’s 8-yard touchdown run upped the lead to 16-0 with 4:03 left, the Panthers defense looked tired.
“That (Irvin) run on third-and-forever and the roughing-the-passer, those were big plays,” Signater said.
Take away those plays — both began inside EA’s 20 — and perhaps the Panthers could have had good field position to try to make it a one-score game.
Instead, the Spartans found just enough offense to keep the visitors at arm’s length.
“And we knew we were good on defense,” Bourgeois said. “But we found out just how good they were as the game went on, because we couldn’t block them.”
McKinley couldn’t block the Spartans defense, either. The Panthers finished with 156 yards, 74 on the ground. Smith had 31 of the yards, but McKinley was never able to run five running plays without one resulting in a loss.