After a difficult journey through District 5-5A, the McKinley Panthers found themselves in the Division I select playoffs, the No. 11 seed, hoping for an upset over Brother Martin that could vault them into a second-round matchup with rival Scotlandville.
And Friday night's first-round playoff game at Yulman Stadium started so well.
On the Crusaders' opening possession, the Panthers picked off quarterback John Paul Pierce and took over at the Brother Martin 30-yard line. Seven plays later, Panthers running back Manny Knighten punched it in from the 1-yard line to give McKinley a six-point lead (the extra-point attempt was no good).
It went downhill from there.
Wide receiver Davvon Moore caught two touchdowns passes, running back Erick Lassair ran for two more and No. 6-seeded Brother Martin defeated McKinley 28-12, extending their winning streak to six games and eliminating the Panthers.
“I think our kids handled everything well,” Crusaders coach Mark Bonis said. “(McKinley) can really sling it around. They’ve got a lot of weapons. The quarterback (Zachery Johnson) can make plays. So I think our kids were prepared. They came out and did well against a pretty good football team, and I’m happy about a lot of things that we did tonight.”
As for next week, the Crusaders will go on to play No. 3-seeded Scotlandville, which had a first-round bye.
After having lost to Scotlandville in the playoffs last year, the Crusaders said they're feeling ready for the challenge.
“We’ve got some bad memories from last year,” senior Erick Lassair said. “But we’re gonna have a great week of practice, study film, correct mistakes and we’re gonna come out and show them all we’ve got.”
Some of those mistakes came early. McKinley (4-7) pulled ahead 6-0 and took it into the second quarter. That's when Brother Martin (7-4) came alive. Lassair ran straight into the end zone rom 6 yards out, tying the score, and kicker Jack Landry put the Crusaders ahead 7-6 with the extra point.
They scored again on their next possession. Pierce atoned for his earlier miscue, connecting with Moore on a 23-yards scored that extended Brother Martin's lead to eight, 14-6.
Lassair put up more points in the third quarter when he ran the ball seamlessly up the middle from 10 yards out to give Brother Martin a 21-6 lead.
McKinley quarterback Zachery Johnson added a 1-yard touchdown run later to make it 28-12, but it wasn't enough for a comeback.
“It feels good to get a ‘W,’ ” Moore said. “But right now we have to go out and have a good week of practice, clean up our mistakes and go out next week to try and get another ‘W.’ ”