CENTRAL — Fourth-seeded Central High was the football team with a plus-15 turnover differential going into Friday’s playoff game.
That didn’t keep 13th-seeded Mandeville High from beating the Wildcats at their own game. The Skippers (9-2) claimed four decisive second-half turnovers en route to a 38-20 victory over Central in Class 5A regional-round playoff action at Wildcat Stadium.
Todd Primo intercepted two Central passes that led to touchdowns, returning one 24 yards for a TD. Delawrence Johnson recovered a fumble for another TD and Matt Nungesser recovered a fumble to snuff out Central’s last attempt for a rally.
“Our kids know the key to success is preparation and they came prepared,” Mandeville coach Guy LeCompte said afterward. “Our defensive coordinator (Harl Penton) has done a great job of preparing them all year and tonight they just executed. Every offense has tendencies and we studied that and had a plan.”
It was the seventh-straight win for Mandeville (9-2), which hosts No. 5 Catholic (9-2) in quarterfinal action next week. That game will be a rematch of a Sept. 7 game Catholic rallied to win, 26-14.
As impressive as Mandeville’s offense was, the Skippers also had plenty of offense.
Glen Cuiellette completed 21 of 33 passes for 215 yards and three TDs, completing passes to eight different receivers.
Brett Courville ran for 90 yards on 23 carries with two TDs for Central. Courville passed for 174 yards with two interceptions for the Wildcats, who finish 10-2.
“We never got into what I call a true free flow offensively,” Central coach Sid Edwards said. “And we did some things we really haven’t done all year. A turnover is a turnover, but these were big turnovers that led to points.
“The margin for error in the playoffs is small. We got exactly what I expected from Mandeville. Guy’s team is sharp they’re well coached. At some point you lose, but the tough part for me is not being able to continue the season with my team. I love them.”
Central took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 11 plays for a TD. Courville’s 17-yard pass to Devon Gales was the key. Courville scored on a 6-yard run and Greg Noel added a PAT kick to make it 7-0 with 7:51 left in the first quarter.
Mandeville countered with a 65-yard drive that took six plays. Cuiellette completed four key passes on the drive, including a 24-yard scoring pass to Zachary Tircuit. But the PAT kick was wide right and Central held on to a 7-6 lead with 6:14 to go in the first quarter.
The Skippers took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. A 12-play, 69-yard drive included more passes from Cuiellette, who completed 14 of 20 for 168 yards. A 7-yard TD pass to Parker Orgeron. Cuiellette tied it by completing a 2-point PAT pass to Zach Boudreaux with 4:50 remaining in the half.
Central didn’t fold. The Wildcats drove 71 yards in seven plays. Courville had runs of 15 and 16 yards along the way. Courville’s 15-yard TD pass to Jake Myer and Noel’s PAT tied it 14-14 with 1:55 remaining in the half.
Mandeville put together one last drive. Drew Graham’s 38-yard field with four seconds remaining sent Mandeville into the locker room with a 17-14 lead.
Primo’s first interception and a 16-yard return to the Central 17 was the first pivotal play of the second half. Cuiellette threw a 7-yard TD pass to Sam Skansi to up the Skippers’ lead to 24-14 at the 6:40 mark.
Four plays later, disaster struck again for the Wildcats. The punt snap got past Greg Noel, who tried to kick the ball near the CHS end zone. The ball instead bounced in the end zone and Mandeville’s Johnson recovered, increasing Mandeville’s lead to 31-14 with 4:11 left in the third quarter.
Central answered with a 10-play drive. Courville scored on another 6-yard run, but Mandeville still led 31-20.
After forcing a Mandeville punt, Central started another drive deep in its territory. This time Primo jumped a sideline route and carried a tipped pass 24 yards into the end zone, making it 38-20 with 9:46 remaining.
The Wildcats used a hook-and-ladder play to get inside the MHS 5 with less than five minutes left. That’s when Nungesser recovered a Myer fumble to end Central’s last scoring chance.