Airline head coach Bo Meeks wasn’t sure who was wearing the Vikings’ blue home uniforms during the first half of Friday night’s game against Haughton, but it wasn’t the group he enjoyed for the past several weeks.
The Buccaneers, minus their best playmaker, Josh Lister, and No. 1 running back, Lavonta’ Gipson, pushed Airline around during the opening 24 minutes. Against a defense that hadn’t allowed a score in three-plus games, Haughton took a 10-point lead into the break and owned a stunning statistical advantage — 11 first downs to one and 182 total yards to Airline’s 31.
“We just had to replace whoever that was in the first half out there and get going,” Meeks said.
An inspired Vikings squad flipped the script in the second half. Airline quarterback Brad Fream, just 2-for-8 for 11 yards in the first half, hit on 15 of 19 attempts in the second half and tossed four touchdowns – to four different receivers — as the Vikings rolled to a 35-17 District 1-5A victory.
Airline defense was resurrected, too.
The Vikings (6-1, 3-0) pitched a second-half shutout and swarmed the Buccaneers. Haughton posted minus-3 yards of total offense in the second half.
“We got tired and were a little short-handed,” Haughton (4-3, 1-2) head coach Jason Brotherton said. “One time, we had our tight end playing running back.
“We couldn’t get yards and couldn’t sustain drives. Eventually, that catches up with you.”
Brian Fielding sparked the second-half surge with an amazing catch in the end zone to cap a 22-yard touchdown off a wheel route.
“It was unreal,” Fream said. “He saved my chocolate.”
Unfortunately, Meeks didn’t get to witness the thing of beauty.
“I was getting mad because we didn’t throw the post and I missed it,” Meeks said.
It was that kind of second half for the Vikings.
Fream began the second half by hitting on 10 straight passes. He wound up with 216 yards.
“We didn’t panic,” Fream said. “It helps getting on a roll and being comfortable in the offense. My receivers were amazing.”
Fourth-quarter touchdown catches Brian Engleke and Nate Fullilove preceded a 4-yard TD grab by 270-pound nose guard Dylan Nash-Browder late in the game.
The Vikings victory was sweet, but the appearance by former Airline star Colton Prater, now a standout at Texas A&M, drew perhaps the biggest cheers and smiles of the evening.
“We’re so proud of Colton and the job he’s doing to represent us,” Meeks said. “For him to be here tonight and talk to the kids, it’s awesome.”
Meeks knows the Vikings must carry the momentum into next week as Evangel (5-2, 3-0) comes to town for a battle for first place in the district.
“It’s going to be a huge game. We know how good they are,” Meeks said. “We have to continue to grow. We look forward to it.”
Airline’s defense appeared to get off the field on the first possession of the game, but a third-down stop was negated by an unsportsmanlike celebration penalty. Three plays later, Haughton ended the Vikings shutout streak with a 4-yard touchdown run by Kynan Hayes II.
A 26-yard field goal from Nico Broadway preceded the Vikings’ long bright spot in the first half, an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Malik Britt.
Haughton quarterback Pryce Curry made it 17-7 with an 11-yard scoring run. Curry threw for 142 first-half yards – 124 were to Emile Cola on five catches (four of at least 20 yards).
The second half was a completely different story.