CENTRAL - With everything going against them, including the score for the first time all night, the Zachary Broncos didn’t flinch because they found themselves in familiar territory Friday night at Central.
Turns out, Zachary had the Wildcats right where they wanted them in a District 4-5A opener.
Sparked by the same rapid-pace offense they have utilized for several seasons - with a little downhill power running mixed in - the Broncos rallied for a 42-38 triumph.
Mason Pace sneaked in from the 1-yard-line with 4:10 left in the game to cap a 78-yard touchdown drive that snapped a run of 23 straight Central points, including two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, that erased a deficit that had swelled to 35-16.
The key for Zachary (5-1, 1-0) was not panicking when it fell behind and going back to its version of basics - an up-tempo offense that generated 438 yards and 24 first downs Friday.
“We’ve got a veteran group of guys, especially on offense, who really believe they can’t be stopped when they’re clicking,” Broncos coach Neil Weiner said. “Our offense kind of lends itself to being effective in a 2-minute drill situation, so that really helped.”
Having senior bulldozer Ladarrius Vessell didn’t hurt, either.
On the game-winning drive, Vessell plowed his way 32 yards to set Pace up for an 18-yard pass to David Deloach that moved the ball to the 1. Vessell finished with 95 yards on the ground - a 14-yard TD burst right before halftime and 81 second-half yards when Boston Scott left with an injury.
That plus Pace’s 222 yards passing and three touchdown strikes were just enough to hold off Central (2-4, 0-1).
Down 35-16 after the Broncos opened the third quarter with Pace’s 15-yard touchdown dash, the Wildcats found an offensive groove behind quarterback Brett Courville and tailback Zach Evans.
That duo keyed a TD drive that culminated with a 17-yard Courville-to-Devon Gales TD pass on a fourth-down flea-flicker and closed the gap to 35-23.
Back in the game, Central gained a head of steam with a fumble recovery and defensive tackle Tim Colomb’s interception on a batted pass.
With Courville carving up Zachary on option reads and Evans blasting away on off-tackle plays, the Wildcats pieced together 56- and 20-yard scoring drives to grab a stunning 38-35 lead with 6:17 to play.
“I told our kids at the start of the week if they left it all out on the field, I’d be proud of them,” Central coach Doug Dotson said. “I’m definitely proud of them.”
“Our story all year has been digging ourselves a hole and then fighting like hell to climb out. We did that (Friday), but Zachary was able to answer.”
And Central couldn’t when it got the lead back after Pace’s TD run.
The Wildcats took a shot at it, moving from their own 26 into Broncos territory on an 18-yard Evans burst. Central got as deep as the 32 when Zachary was flagged for pass interference on a fourth-and-10 pass play with 1:27 on the clock.
But Courville threw four incompletions to end the threat and allow the Broncos to beat the Wildcats for the first time since 2006.
“I’m very proud of our kids for finding a way because we haven’t had a lot of success here,” Weiner said.
Evans finished with 87 rushing yards to pace Central, while Courville ran for 79 and three touchdowns.
Pace connected on touchdown passes on three of Zachary’s first four series - 20 yards to Quinton Jones, 10 to Aaron Simon and a picture-perfect 39-yard laser to Aaron Beard. The Broncos’ quarterback finished the night 19-of-36 for 222 yards and rushed for 74 yards.