LHSAA labeled Friday night’s showdown between 2A No. 2 Evangel and No. 3 University Lab its game of the week.
In north Louisiana, it may have been the game of the year.
Both teams lit up the scoreboard at Rodney Duron Field, but Evangel (12-2) was able to pull out a 52-45 win against University (12-2) to earn a trip to New Orleans to play John Curtis in the 2A state championship game.
“This means everything,” Evangel senior Dakota Duron said. “We’ve been working hard every day since we lost in the semifinals last year. I wanted us to end right at this field. We played sloppy at times, and we may have given up some points, but we came out with a W, and that’s what we wanted.”
Duron was 25-of-34 with 338 passing yards and two touchdowns to lead the Eagles offense. His biggest two throws of the night came with three minutes left in the game when he found Trent Taylor for a 12-yard score down the middle. He connected with Taylor again for a two-point conversion that made the score 52-45.
“They left the middle of field open all night, so I just did a double move, and I knew the ball was going to be there,” Taylor said. “Dakota hit me perfectly on that one. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
University had a chance to tie the game, but Javin Webb, who scored Evangel’s three first-half touchdowns rushing, made a play in the secondary.
Cubs quarterback Nik Kragthorpe threw up a jump ball, and Webb, playing cornerback at the end of the game, was able to come down with an interception.
Evangel ran the clock down to 17 seconds but was stopped on fourth-and-1 on the University 24. The Cubs ran two plays to end the game, with Taylor entering the game and picking off Kragthorpe to wrap up the win.
“We knew it would be great football game, because University is a great football team,” Evangel coach Phillip Deas said. “We knew it was going to be a four-quarter fight. That’s what it turned into, and fortunately we were able to make the plays right there at the end to seal the victory.”
Taylor finished with 14 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns. He scored another time on a bizarre play on Evangel’s first possession of the second half.
With the Eagles trailing for the first time in the game, Duron hit Taylor for a gain of 10. The ball was stripped out and recovered by a University defensive back. The play seemed like an incomplete pass, so the defender didn’t advance the ball.
Taylor saw his opportunity, took the ball back, and ran 72 yards for a TD.
“I didn’t really know what was going on, but he was holding the ball out there, and I didn’t hear a whistle. So I just grabbed it and hoped for the best,” Taylor said. “I just know, don’t stop until the whistle.”
Taylor also stopped a potential University touchdown at the end of the first half. Evangel had just taken a 23-20 lead with three seconds left, but the Cubs return man broke free during the kickoff. Taylor ran him down and tackled him at the Eagles 18 to end the half.
“Trent Taylor was all world for us tonight,” Deas said. “He does so many things so well and plays with so much heart. He never quits, never gives up. He wasn’t even on the kickoff coverage team. He asked to go in right before the kickoff.”
While Evangel was able to pull out a win, the Eagles struggled to slow down University sophomore running back Nick Brossette, who ran for 341 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries.
“They are really good up front on the offensive line, with some of the top guys in the country,” Deas said. “And their running back is some kind of special. To only be a sophomore, I don’t know what he’s going to look like in two years.”
Brossette kept University in the game early, when Webb was reeling off his own touchdowns runs. Webb finished with 180 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
“We were very balanced,” Deas said. “We ran the ball well and threw it well. We got the big plays when we needed them, and we were able to respond when they grabbed the momentum. I think that was the key to the game. We were always able to respond.”
The teams combined for 1,199 yards of offense. University lineman Tim Williams, who sacked Calvary quarterback Daniel Fitzwater eight times last week in a 19-7 win, wasn’t able to get his normal pressure on Duron, who moved in the pocket. Williams finished with one of University’s two sacks.
“That’s just Dakota,” Deas said. “That little joker is going to move quickly all the time. He did a great job tonight, and he made some really big throws and big plays. I’m really proud of the way he played tonight.”
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08.