The drought is over.
For the first time since 2004, the Airline Vikings have defeated the Byrd Yellow Jackets. Airline won 36-20 in a District 1-5A contest Thursday night at Lee Hedges Stadium.
Byrd had won 14 straight in the series, including twice in the playoffs and 36-34 in three overtimes last season.
“I think it’s exciting for these kids to be the team that got the win, broke the streak, whatever you want to call it,” Airline coach Bo Meeks said. “We talked about them having the opportunity to make history tonight. They went out and did it.”
Airline improved to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in district. The Vikings are No. 20 in the Class 5A power rankings and should move up with the win.
A victory at Haughton (6-3, 3-1) in the regular-season finale next week could move Airline into the top 16, which would give the Vikings a first-round playoff game at home. Haughton hosts Parkway on Friday.
Byrd, which has an open date next week, finished the regular season 5-4 overall and 3-3 in district. The Yellow Jackets will be going to the select Division I playoffs.
While Meeks was obviously glad to put the losing streak against Byrd in the past, what pleased him the most is the way the Vikings did it.
“What’s even more exciting is the way we played in the ninth week of the season,” he said. “With the playoffs coming up we finally put together a complete game in all three phases. Just really proud of the job that our players did and our coaches did. All of it rolled together makes for one special night.”
The Vikings defensive line led by Jordan Cowthorn, Matt Salinas, Jacoby Bailey and Dylan Nash-Browder controlled the line of scrimmage. The defense kept Byrd’s ball-control option offense in check most of the game.
Jaylyn Thomas made one of the game’s biggest plays when he scooped up an errant lateral and went 45 yards for a TD on Byrd’s first series of the second half. Gamarus Walker had an interception.
Byrd actually scored on two long passes, one with just 2 seconds left in the first half that cut a 22-6 deficit to 22-13 and one late in the fourth quarter when the game was already all but decided.
The Jackets’ other TD came on a 36-yard run by speedster Jalin Thomas in the first quarter.
“Really proud of the way we controlled the inside run,” Meeks said. “They never really were able to get that going and eat the clock like they like to do. They scored on big plays. If you had told me that before the game I would’ve been worried.
“We did a great job of controlling the run and forced turnovers and made big plays off of them which our defense likes to do. We haven’t had much success doing that against them.”
Offensively, Cameron Davis had a good night running and catching the ball. Airline used the screen pass to good effect. And quarterback Jordan Gladney hit several short passes that the receivers turned into good gains and first downs.
Senior receiver Coby McGee made some key plays. Sophomore backs Thomas Williams and Jamal Johnson also contributed.
“We were able to have good balance,” Meeks said. “Jordan played really well. A big part of that was the offensive line, the running backs and the wide receivers all played well. It all worked together. Again, the first time this year that I really feel like we put it all together offensively as a complete game and it showed. To be playing that way this time of year, that’s exciting.”
Airline started strong, driving 80 yards in 13 plays for a TD on its first series. The Vikings, who overcame an early 1st-and-20, took 6:22 off the clock.
Davis converted a fourth-and-2 at the Byrd 19 with a run. Gladney scored from 9 yards out. After Byrd was called for offsides, Davis scored a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
After Thomas’ run got the Jackets within two, the Vikings maintained the lead by stopping a try for two. Airline then drove 65 yards for its second TD, a 17-yard pass from Gladney to Nate Fullilove. Jackson Tinkis’ PAT made it 15-6 with 3:30 left in the half.
A screen pass to Davis, a shovel pass to Antavious Freeman and a McGee catch for a first down were among the key plays in the drive.
The defense then forced a bad lateral on fourth-and-4 from the Airline 47. The loss on the play gave Airline a first down at the Byrd 40.
A 25-yard screen pass to McGee set the Vikings up with a first down at the 5. Gladney scored on the next play and Airline led 22-6 with 17 seconds left in the half.
Byrd then stunned the Vikings with a 56-yard TD pass with 2 seconds left, taking some momentum into the locker room.
The Jackets ran only 18 plays in the first half and had five first downs.
The Vikings quickly regained the momentum early in the second half on Thomas’ fumble return, which extended the lead to 29-13.
Airline forced a fumble on the Jackets’ next series, taking over at midfield. On fourth-and-8 from the 32, Davis caught a screen pass, broke a couple of tackles and ran 25 yards to the 7.
Gladney scored his third touchdown of the game a play later on a 4-yard run. Tinkis’ final PAT made it 36-13 with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
The Airline defense kept Byrd at bay, including a fourth-down stop, until the Jackets scored on a 40-yard pass with 3:52 left to play.
The Vikings recovered the onside kick, drove to the Byrd 4 and ran out the clock.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com