If you’re going to advance in the high school football playoffs, you’re going to have to overcome some adversity at some point.
The No. 12 seed Airline Vikings did just that Friday night, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Class 5A playoffs with a 35-28 victory over the No. 5 St. Amant Gators before a large crowd at St. Amant.
Airline (9-3), winners of six straight, will host No. 4 Zachary (10-2) in the quarterfinals this Friday. Zachary routed No. 13 John Ehret 38-0 in its second-round game.
It will be the Vikings first quarterfinal appearance since 2012. St. Amant finished 10-2.
Airline’s adversity began before the Vikings even arrived in St. Amant. The team bus had a blowout just past Livonia which turned what is usually about a 4.5-hour trip into a 6.5-hour ordeal.
The two-hour delay forced the Vikings to miss their pregame meal.
“We got here at 5:46 (for a 7 p.m. kickoff), had to get dressed and go play and these guys just found a way to get it done,” Airline coach Bo Meeks said. “Unbelievable. So proud of them.”
Airline scored the winning touchdown with 3:41 left in the game, breaking a 28-28 tie. Junior quarterback Jordan Gladney hit senior tight end C.J. George for 62 yards. It was one of several big plays for the Vikings in the game.
The long trip certainly didn’t keep Airline from getting out of the gate fast.
Gladney completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to senior Coby McGee on the game’s first play. It was the first of McGee’s three touchdowns on the night.
The rest of the first half was “a war,” Meeks said.
After St. Amant tied it at 7, senior defensive lineman Matt Salinas intercepted a pass from running back Cade Nelson intended for quarterback Landon Lalonde and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown.
Airline led 14-7 at the half.
After taking a 28-13 lead in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard pass from Gladney to McGee and a 73-yard McGee run on a sweep, the Vikings faced some more adversity.
The Gators stormed back and tied the game with 4:52 left. The final two points came on a reverse pass.
St. Amant had momentum on its side in front of a raucous home crowd.
But Airline answered quickly with Gladney’s pass to George.
“In the second half we were running Coby on speed sweeps and using him as a decoy to run inside,” Meeks said. “We faked the zone to JoJo (Davis) and faked to Coby over the top. There was nobody left. C.J. was wide open. Jordan had great time and laid it out perfect. (George) ran right through it and that was it.”
The Airline defense then forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-8 with 2:43 left.
Behind the strong running of Davis, the Vikings picked up two first downs, ran out the clock and the celebration began.
“I think it was two teams competing to go to the quarterfinals,” Meeks said of the entertaining, hard-fought game. “They’re big, well-coached, play extremely hard. We had to work, but we did what we’ve been doing. If guys were struggling their teammates picked them up. Offense picked the defense up at times, and the defense picked the offense up. Just did the little things necessary to be playing on Thanksgiving. I can’t tell you how proud of them I am.”
McGee, who has had an outstanding season, caught seven passes for 127 yards and rushed five times for 93 yards. Gladney completed 13 of 20 passes for 227 yards.
Davis ground out 50 tough yards on 18 carries. George caught four passes for 86 yards.
Airline finished with 409 total yards.
Nelson, a key factor in the Gators’ fourth-quarter rally, led St. Amant with 134 yards rushing on 29 carries, according to stats kept by the Baton Rouge Advocate.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com