High school football: Second-half rally lifts Airline past Ouachita Parish

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After his team’s poor performance late in a scrimmage against Alexandria two weeks ago, Airline coach Bo Meeks brought up last season, reminding the Vikings of the issues the team had finishing strong.

That was one reason Airline went 3-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time in Meeks’ eight years at the helm.

In no uncertain terms, Meeks told the players he was tired of talking about last year. No doubt, the Vikings were tired of hearing about it too.

After Friday’s come-from-behind 28-20 victory over Ouachita Parish in the 2019 season opener in Monroe, they might not have to hear about 2018 from their coach again.

The Vikings stormed back from a 14-0 halftime deficit, scoring three straight touchdowns to take a 21-14 lead. When the Lions scored on the kickoff return after the third TD  to get within one, Airline kept the lead by blocking a PAT attempt.

Airline then put together a touchdown drive capped by a 12-yard Rovelle Young run.

The Vikings got the ball back and kept it for the game’s final five minutes. That’s called finishing strong.

“Just really proud of the guys,” Meeks said. “I think in the second half we were the team we should be and know we can be. I’m really proud of the effort tonight from the coaches and the players.”

Ouachita Parish capitalized on a turnover in Airline territory and had one sustained TD drive to take the 14-0 lead. Neither team did much offensively but Airline did have a drive to the Lions 2 that ended with a missed field goal.

That changed in the second half as senior quarterback Alex Garcia, making his first start, finally ignited the Vikings offense.

He led Airline on a 75-yard drive capped by Daniel Smith’s 5-yard reception. Young set it up with a 38-yard run.

A little later in the third quarter, Garcia connected with Devin Bilbo for a 30-yard score. Jackson Tinkis’ PAT tied it at 14.

Garcia capped a very productive run that started halfway the third quarter with a 37-yard TD pass to Smith with only 6 seconds gone in the fourth and the Vikings led 21-14.

“It was just a great performance in the second half,” Meeks said.  “We didn’t play well in the first half and I thought Ouachita did play well. We got into a little hole. In the second half we played the way we’re capable of playing and we played together and we played hard.”

Garcia completed 21 of 29 passes for 271 yards.

“He played great. In the first half I felt like he was just trying to do a little too much. We didn’t do a great job around him in the first half. In the second half he kind of let things come to him and the guys around him played better. He really, really played well and showed what he’s capable of tonight. The guys around him really picked him up when he needed them to.”

Garcia spread the ball around. Smith had three catches for 64 yards. Bilbo caught four passes for 74 yards. Kevin Pouncy caught five passes for 57 yards. Thomas Williams had four catches for 39 yards. Xavion Butler had a 20-yard catch.

Jamal Johnson also contributed with 42 yards rushing on eight carries.

Meeks thought the defense played well throughout the game. Ouachita’s lone second-half score came on the kick return that ended with a Lion recovering a fumble in the end zone.

“We shut them out in the second half defensively,” he said. “I was really proud of the effort. I thought the guys stepped up. I thought we really flew to the ball. We played physical in the second half. I thought we punished them as far as the way we tackled. Just proud of the whole team. I thought the guys fought and played for each other in the second half.”

Airline plays Union Parish in its home opener this Friday. The Farmers opened their season with a 34-18 victory over Many.