East Ascension was in danger of watching its state football playoff hopes sink into a rash of fumbles and mud Friday night. Strong safety Jaqunn Mitchell put a stop to that.
Mitchell made two huge defensive plays in the fourth quarter to help the Spartans survive and move to the next round with a 17-13 victory against East St. John at Spartan Stadium.
The Spartans (10-1) move on to the second round to take on Slidell, a 35-21 victor against Central Lafourche. East St. John (5-6) had its three-game winning streak snapped.
The Wildcats were almost the ones who survived. But Mitchell, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound senior, ran across the field to knock East St. John quarterback Sean Shelby out of bounds with a vicious, fourth-down tackle near the East Ascension 18-yard line with less than a minute to play. The ball was spotted just short of the first down by officials after a short conference, snuffing out the Wildcats' final chance.
On East St. John’s previous possession, Mitchell broke up a fourth-down pass intended for ESJ’s Dontae Fleming at the goal line.
“He’s been doing that all year,” East Ascension coach Darnell Lee said. “The defense saved us tonight, period, point blank. They (ESJ) didn’t score a single point on our defense. ESJ came in ready to play. They were hot.”
East St. John coach Brandon Brown hesitated when asked if he thought Shelby made the first down.
“I think, I’ve got to do it the right way,” Brown said. “The ref made the call and that’s what it is. I’m going to leave it at that.
“Hats off to my guys but East Ascension is a good football team. They made the plays they were supposed to make. We had our opportunities and didn’t capitalize.”
The game started normal enough with the home team driving 52 yards on its opening possession for the game’s only offensive touchdown, a 13-yard run by Evan Copeland, who ran 21 times for 157 yards. Then it got crazy with the teams combining for five lost fumbles, each scoring a TD by recovering a bobble in the end zone.
The Wildcats fumbled the ball away on the Spartan 1-yard line, but on the next play defensive tackle Welland Williams came up with an East Ascension fumble in the end zone to make it 7-6.
The Spartans regained the lead on a 25-yard field goal by Alberto Ontiveros and appeared to be headed into halftime with a 10-6 lead when disaster struck. Trying to execute a hook and lateral play on the final play of the half, Jhyrin Johnson fumbled and ESJ’s Jarius Monroe picked up the ball and raced 80 yards to make it 13-10.
The scenario repeated itself in the third quarter when Spartans quarterback Jason Wakefield appeared to be headed for a TD run but had the ball pulled out of his hands at the 1-yard line where Devontay Morgan recovered for the Wildcats. Two plays later, Shelby lost a fumble in the end zone and Jacolby Reed recovered for the game’s final score.