CECILIA — Even after Cecilia’s 31-23 loss to DeRidder in the regular-season finale on Friday, Bulldogs coach Dennis Skains hadn’t lost all hope.
Despite sitting at No. 31 in the Class 4A power ratings entering the week — and seemingly needing to beat the Dragons (7-3) to get into the playoffs — Skains and his staff were informed before the game that the Bulldogs (4-6) would earn a postseason berth regardless of Friday’s result
“I don’t know though,” Skains said. “I never know. We’ll probably know, I’m assuming, by late tonight or early tomorrow morning. We’ll have figured it out hopefully.”
Cecilia can blame DeRidder tailback Jalyn Thurman and for making their postseason chances more uncertain.
The senior rushed for a whopping 265 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries, running behind a heavy offensive line that wore down an undersized Cecilia defensive front in the second half.
“We’re not flashy,” said DeRidder coach Brad Parmley. “Nothing about us pretty, including me. But just in general, we got a hard-nosed football team. Our offensive line has done a great job the last couple of weeks. We’re gut-punchers. We’re going to keep punching you in the gut, and hopefully it pays off for us in the fourth quarter. It did tonight.”
The Bulldogs virtually had no answers for Thurman, who rushed for 178 yards on 12 carries in the first half alone. That included a 64-yard scoring jaunt that gave the Dragons a 14-7 lead.
“No. 2 in the backfield (Thurman), he’s our best cat,” Parmley said. “Ain’t no denying that. So we’re going to load the cart come playoff time.”
Cecilia responded quickly when, on the third play of the ensuing drive, Danarious Journet cut through the DeRidder defense to score from 38 yards out. Journet finished the night with 127 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.
The Bulldogs tacked on a 37-yard field goal from Chaz Badeaux with under a minute remaining in the first half. The Dragons tried to answer Badeaux’s field goal with one of their own, but a 35-yard attempt missed the uprights as time expired.
But DeRidder spoiled a promising Cecilia drive to open up the second half when Chance Duncan stepped in front of a screen pass and returned an interception to the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line. The Dragons made good on the short field when Thurman raced 29 yards for a touchdown and a 21-17 lead.
Cecilia stole the lead back on the ensuing possession, as sophomore quarterback Alex Soileau engineered a seven-play, 69-yard scoring. Soileau punctuated the drive by finding Ethan Howard in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown with 4:43 remaining in the third quarter.
“I was pleased with the offense,” Skains said. “They certainly put up enough points to where we should have won the football game. I thought they moved the ball well and executed the game plan because, again, we were undersized there too.”
But DeRidder put together a 16-play drive in response, capped off by a 34-yard field goal from Jose Mijares. Back-to-back sacks by Dragons linebacker Derron Griffin forced Cecilia to punt on the next series, setting up quarterback Kenneth Gooden’s 17-yard touchdown run with 4:33 remaining.
DeRidder sealed the game by forcing a turnover on downs on the ensuing drive and converting on fourth-and-1 at the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line with under two minutes remaining.
“They’re a really big offensive line, but they’re also really well-coached,” Skains said. “They’re very, very fundamentally sound. When you’re undersized and they’re well-coached, you got to really, really play great technique. We did a lot of the night, but we didn’t the entire night. I didn’t have an answer in the fourth quarter. I needed to have a better answer for our kids and for what they were doing, and I didn’t tonight. These guys deserved better than that.”