PORT ALLEN - Playing catch is nothing new for neighbors Darian Claiborne and Ashton Paul Williams. The duo took their game and Port Allen High School to a new level Friday night.
Claiborne passed for 190 yards to go with 92 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Williams had six catches for 146 yards and two TDs, leading Port Allen to a 35-22 victory over Independence to open the Class 3A playoffs.
It was only the third playoff win ever for the Pelicans (9-2), who have nine wins for only the second time in school history. It was also the first playoff win at PAHS’ Guy Otwell Stadium.
“I have to say hats off to my defensive staff,” PAHS coach Guy Blanchard said. “They came up with a great plan. On offense, I thought there were some things we could do. I’m happy for this program.”
The game ended on a sour note when an altercation broke out. The scuffle took place after a kickoff that followed Independence’s last score with 15.3 seconds remaining. Once the teams were separated, officials ran the time off the clock.
The 14th-seeded Pelicans, who travel to No. 3 Loranger (10-1) for the regional round, balanced their offense with a defense that limited Independence (7-4) to 53 yards of total offense through three quarters while building a 27-7 lead.
PAHS loaded the box with extra defenders to limit the No. 19 Tigers’ running game.
“They (the Pelicans) played good football - they were the better team tonight,” Independence coach Keith Carona said. “They put extra guys in the box to try to force us to throw the ball and we didn’t do a good job with that.
“We started getting yards once they took guys out of the box. And they came out and executed their offense well.”
Miquel Toefield led Independence with 81 yards on 14 carries. Shannon Cage had 54 yards on 12 carries with one TD.
Independence turned the first turnover into points less than four minutes into the game. Quentin Jackson recovered a lateral pass on the Pelicans’ first scrimmage play.
The Tigers took over at the PAHS 23 and scored on a 3-yard run by Oscar Briggs. The point-after kick by Jonathan Cervantes made it 7-0 with 8:30 left in the first quarter.
As the first quarter ended, Port Allen got its offense in gear and ultimately outgained the Tigers 157-54 in the half.
Williams’ 18-yard run on a option pitch and a 27-yard run by Claiborne keyed a 60-yard drive. Ricky Merritt scored on a 3-yard run and Ricky Decuir’s PAT kick tied the game at 7-7 with 11:53 to go in the half.
The Pelicans gambled with an onside kick after that TD and won when Aikeem Jones recovered at the Independence 35. Six plays later, Port Allen scored again.
This time, Williams snatched a pass from Claiborne and raced into the end zone to complete a 26-yard scoring play that gave PAHS a 13-7 lead with 8:32 left in the half.
“This comes playing in the neighborhood,” Claiborne said of his chemistry with Williams, who also had 72 return yards.
It didn’t take Port Allen long to get a degree of separation once the second half started. Claiborne raced 55 yards down the PAHS sideline to score on the third scrimmage play. Decuir scored on a two-point conversion that made it 21-7 with 11:03 remaining in the third quarter.
The teams traded possessions. A 54-yard punt by Independence’s Seth Burkhalter pinned Port Allen at its own 1.
No field position? No problem. Williams took a swing pass from Claiborne 19 yards and Terrell Lockett took an option pitch 28 yards.
Claiborne, who completed 10-of-18 passes, then hit Williams with a 56-yard pass.
That play set up a 2-yard TD run by Claiborne that made it 27-7 with 2:12 left in the third period.
Michael Toefield (23-yard run) and Cage (9-yard run) had fourth-quarter TDs for the Tigers. Williams also caught a 10-yard TD pass from Claiborne in the final period.