Airline coach Bo Meeks figured his team would be in for a battle at Bastrop on Friday night, and that’s just what the Vikings got.
Airline won a nailbiter 27-26 to improve to 2-0. Bastrop dropped to 0-2. The Rams’ two losses have been by a combined nine points.
“They’re a really good football team,” Meeks said. “Really impressed with (first-year) coach (Adrian) Burnette and their team and how hard they fought. And it was a tough one. And we knew it was going to be tough going in there to play.
“Just really, really proud of our entire team and coaching staff. It was a huge team win tonight. Feels really good to be 2-0 for sure.”
Senior linebacker Zylon Newson scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:24 left in the third quarter, breaking a 20-20 tie. Senior lineman Matt Salinas hit Bastrop quarterback Quentavious Hawkins and knocked the ball loose. Newson was there to scoop it up and take it 25 yards for the TD.
Freshman Jackson Tinkis’ third PAT made it 27-20.
Bastrop got within one on a Hawkins’ TD pass with about 10 minutes left. The Rams elected to go for two and the lead, but the Vikings defense came through with the stop.
Airline had to punt on its next possession. The Vikings, taking advantage of a personal foul penalty against the Rams, then forced Bastrop to punt on a fourth-and-20 situation.
Airline took over at its 32 and was able to drive to the Bastrop 15, running out the clock. Brad Fream hit Antavious Freeman for 16 yards and a first on third-and-11 with about three minutes to play. Thomas Williams ran for a first on third-and-1 with a little less than two minutes remaining.
“They kept coming back at us,” Meeks said. “We were able to hold them out on that two-point conversion after that last score then gutted out a couple of drives right there and were able to run the clock out at the end.
“We made a lot of mistakes that we’ve got to correct and improve on but to be able to not play our best game and find a way to win was really satisfying.”
Airline’s offense struggled early. The Rams returned a fumble for a touchdown and took a 12-0 lead on Christian Smith’s 37-yard run with about three minutes left in the half. The Vikings stopped a two-point conversion try after Smith’s score.
“No. 6 for them, Christian Smith, is just a tremendous player,” Meeks said. “As good as we are in the secondary, he was making plays all night.”
The game turned in Airline’s favor in the last minute of the first half. Drae Robinson picked off a pass and returned it to around midfield. Fream connected with Coby McGee for gains of 13 and 19 yards. On third down from the 23, Adrian Brooks took a shovel pass to the end zone to cut the Rams’ lead in half with 34 seconds left. The PAT attempt failed.
Airline then recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Bastrop 47. Fream hit McGee for 34 yards to the 3. After three straight incompletions left just one second on the clock, Fream found sophomore Jamal Johnson in the flat for the TD. Tinkis’ PAT gave the Vikings a 13-12 halftime lead.
“They’re a momentum type of team,” Meeks said. “We knew if we we gave them momentum they would feed off it. But we were able to get it back.
“We had that rally right before the half, made some huge plays. The kids fought through some adversity. I was really, really proud of that. That’s something we really challenge our guys on and we do year in and year out is overcoming adversity. If you fall behind make the plays to catch back up. Did a really good job. I think that says a lot about this team and the growth that we’re showing.”
Behind some good running by Williams, Airline scored on its first possession of the second half. Williams carried it over from the 2. Tinkins’ PAT put the Vikings on top 20-12.
Bastrop tied it on a 29-yard pass from Hawkins to Smith and a two-point conversion with about six minutes left in the third quarter.
Airline visits Ruston (1-1) Friday. The Bearcats feel to traditional 5A power Acadiana 28-6 at home Friday night.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com