As soon as Warren Easton quarterback Tyriek Starks released his first pass of Friday’s playoff game, he knew he made a huge mistake.
On the opening play of the game, Starks throw was intercepted by McDonogh 35 linebacker Brad Stewart and returned to the Easton 10. Four plays later, 35 grabbed a 7-0 lead.
But Starks recovered from his miscue, scoring two crucial fourth-quarter touchdowns to help guide the Eagles (12-1) to a 27-26 win in a Class 4A quarterfinal clash between two District 9-4A rivals at Tad Gormley Stadium.
“Once I threw it, it was in the trash,” Starks said. “You’ve got to come back on the next play and make a better play.”
Easton advances on to the Class 4A semifinals for a rematch of last year’s state championship game against No. 1 Neville, which defeated No. 9 North DeSoto 42-14 on Friday.
“It’s just a road trip we’ve got to take,” said Easton coach Tony Hull. “We’re gonna celebrate tonight and just get after it and get ready to compete tomorrow.”
Despite trailing the majority of the game, Easton took control of the game in the fourth quarter.
After a failed fake punt by 35, the Eagles opened the fourth with a 4-play, 44-yard drive that concluded with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tyriek Starks to Yoheinz Tyler in the corner of the endzone. Easton missed the point after, keeping the score tied at 20 with 10:23 remaining in the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, Easton safety Damien Tate stripped the ball away from 35 receiver Lawrence Keys to give the ball right back to the Eagles. Easton converted a third-and-34 with a soaring 38-yard catch by Clyde Chriss, and Starks finished the drive on the next play with a 3-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles up 27-20 lead.
Starks finished 17-of-29 for 179 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also had 13 carries for 49 yards and two more scores.
“(Starks) is a high-character kid,” Hull said. “I’d put him up with any quarterback in the state of Louisiana. The kid just competes, doesn’t let negativity hurt him and forgets about those bad plays. He’s a great kid, I love him to death.”
After starting senior Sidney Wilson at quarterback the entire regular season, McDonogh 35 coach Wayne Reese decided to change things and go with backup LeJohn Howard at quarterback to begin the playoffs.
Howard struggled in the first half, finishing with only 24 passing yards, but he found his groove, throwing for 146 yards in the second half, including a 53-yard bomb to Jared Miles on the third play of the second half to put 35 up 20-7.
McDonogh 35 had an opportunity at the end to tie things up following a 3-yard touchdown run by Wilson on an option pitch, but 35 was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, while celebrating, pushing them out of field goal range. The Roneagles attempted the two-point conversion, but was unable to make the play, keeping the score at 27-26 with 3:34 left in the game.
Darius May, who had over 400 yards rushing and six touchdowns in the team’s first two playoff games, ended Friday with 19 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
“If I had to go through all the things they called on us tonight I could write a book,” Reese said. “They said (Wilson) threw the ball at a defender, but I didn’t see it. If you want to talk about calls, there was some terrible officiating tonight.”