Airline falls to Zachary in first round of 5A playoffs

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The Airline Vikings’ season came to an end with a 53-27 loss to the Zachary Broncos in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night in Zachary.

The No. 30 seed Vikings ended the season 4-7. Third-seeded Zachary (10-1), which won its 10th straight game, hosts No. 19 Denham Springs in the second round next week.

The Vikings hung with the Broncos for one-and-a-half quarters, but the game turned on some big plays just before the half. Leading 14-7, the Broncos scored on a 59-yard fake punt. They got another touchdown with 36 seconds left in the half after recovering a fumble.

The Broncos then ran away in the second half, building a 46-7 lead.

After Zachary took the 14-0 lead, sophomore quarterback Noah Hildebrand threw a touchdown pass to Cameron Howell to cut the deficit in half. Howell caught five passes for 86 yards in the game.

Running back Brian Fielding and backup QB Thomas McKain scored rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Vikings also returned a fumble 100 yards for a TD.

Airline coach Bo Meeks told the Baton Rouge Advocate that the fake punt was probably the biggest play in the game. He also said the Vikings simply made too many mistakes.

Airline’s 4-7 final record wasn’t indicative of how the Vikings played all season. Mistakes cost Airline at least two close games. Victories in those would’ve meant a better seed and a first-round opponent not quite as strong as Zachary.

Only Parkway and Zachary really dominated the Vikings. They were competitive with 1-5A champ Byrd and traditional Monroe powers West Monroe and Neville.

While Airline loses many quality seniors, including defensive lineman Charlie Matthews and offensive lineman Caleb Thomas, the future looks bright. Underclassmen, including sophomore QB Hildebrand, played key roles this season.

Shuncee Thomas, who led Airline in rushing on the season, is only a junior as are receivers D’Juan Byrd, Cameron Taylor and Howell. Darian Germany, a running back and receiver, is also just a junior. Defensive back Tyrise Neal is a junior. Big offensive lineman Colton Prater also has his senior year ahead of him. McKain, who led the Vikings to a win over Franklin Parish, is another junior.

Harvey Calhoun, who made some big catches, and Fielding are just sophomores as is linebacker Josh James.

— Russell Hedges, rhedges@bossierpress.com