NEW ORLEANS — Ouachita Christian fans had to be somewhat shocked to see their Eagles trailing at halftime of the Class 1A state championship game against Haynesville on Friday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The last time OCS didn’t have a sizable halftime lead was Week 2 against Rayville. The No. 1 Eagles were able to bounce back with two second-half touchdown drives to win 20-8, increase their winning streak to 30 games with back-to-back 1A titles, and end the No. 2 Golden Tornado’s run.
But Haynesville’s strong showing made an impression.
“Haynesville, those guys did a great, great job,” OCS coach Steven Fitzhugh said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for them. They are a bunch of guys we knew would fight hard and compete. We knew it would be that way.”
The Eagles (15-0) had scored easily all season. Their lowest output in the regular season was a 28-22 win in Week 1 against 4A Franklin Parish. OCS scored more than 50 five times before the postseason and outscored playoff opponents 150-23 in four wins to get to the Dome.
“Haynesville’s defense was very good,” OCS quarterback Braden Bristo said. “They brought it a lot harder than I thought they were going to bring it. But it is a state championship game. You can’t expect anything else.”
After a scoreless first quarter, OCS took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run from Colby Webb with 7 minutes left in the first quarter.
But Haynesville (11-3) came right back. The Golden Tornado took an 8-7 lead with a seven-play, 39-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown run from CaVontae Critton.
“We are certainly proud of our kids and the effort they gave tonight,” Haynesville coach David Franklin said. “Not a whole lot to hang your head about. Making it down here is a great accomplishment for our guys. We’re proud to be the state runner-ups.”
The Haynesville score came after the Golden Tornado defense forced a fumble, which was recovered by Keandre Harris. The Eagles turned it over four times with fumbles.
“We knew that they had a good defense, and one of the keys that we talked about coming into this game was eliminating turnovers,” Fitzhugh said. “We punted one time tonight. So, on the possessions we didn’t cash in, it was because of turnovers, or they stopped us on a fourth down.”
The Eagles came out of the halftime locker room ready to pound the ball. With Bristo and Webb leading the way, OCS regained the lead with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that took 4 minutes. Webb picked up his second score with a 3-yard rush that put the Eagles up 14-8.
“I really wasn’t surprised with the way Haynesville fought,” Webb said. “I knew they were a fourth-quarter team. They had been down and come back every single game in the playoffs. I knew they would be tough, fast and physical. They disrupted a lot of our counters. I was impressed, but I knew if we made some half time adjustments we would be all right.”
Haynesville had a shot to regain the lead late in the third quarter and again in the fourth. Twice, Haynesville drives stalled with failed fourth downs in the red zone.
“It’s simple, I think the best team won (Friday night),” Franklin said. “I think we shot ourselves in the foot on several occasions.”
After the Golden Tornado couldn’t convert a fourth-and-goal from the 3 with 8 minutes left in the game — Haynesville had a first-and-goal from the 6 still down 14-8 — OCS’s offensive line finished the job.
“It came down to how good of shape we were in,” said Bristo, who was named the Eagles’ MVP. “It’s a testament to how hard we worked in the offseason. I’m really proud of our offensive line. They went out there and opened it up. I knew that once the fourth quarter rolled around, no one would be in as good of shape as us.”
The Eagles went 97 yards in 14 plays to put the game away. The drive ended with an 18-yard touchdown run from Webb with 1:11 left on the clock.
“I got in the end zone and knew that had sealed the game. There was so much excitement running through me,” Webb said. “We just wanted to pound it and run as much clock as we could.”
For Haynesville, a young team, the loss will turn into motivation for next season.
“Starting Monday, I’m going to start trying to get faster, stronger and become a better quarterback and safety,” said junior Jerrell Jackson, who was the Haynesville MVP. “As soon as we got put out in the quarterfinals (last year) we started working hard. We start (doing it again) Monday.”
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08.