OPELOUSAS — As the first half began to wind down with Westminster leading 17-6, both coaches had one main thing in mind.
For Haynesville coach David Franklin, it was somehow getting his Golden Tornado to play more physical.
For Westminster coach Tommy Badon, it was preventing the big play.
One got his wish, and the other didn’t.
On a third-and-9 play with about 30 seconds left until intermission, Haynesville’s Tyus Early turned a screen pass into a 61-yard touchdown pass, which resulted in a 17-14 halftime deficit after CaVontae Critton’s 2-point conversion.
Jerrell Jackson then returned the second half kickoff 83 yards for another big-play touchdown, and No. 2 Haynesville rode those big plays to a 34-17 come-from-behind road victory against No. 10 Westminster in their Class 1A state quarterfinals on Friday at Crusader Stadium.
Haynesville later added a 35-yard touchdown run by Keshawn Harris and a 41-yarder by Critton to finalize the scoring and earn a spot in the semifinals against West St. John, which beat Vermilion Catholic 41-20.
“They actually wore us down in the first half,” Franklin said. “We knew Westminster had a good football team. Their offense is good. They are physical and do a good job. We told our kids at the half that the team that was the most physical in the second half was going to win the game. We challenged our kids to play more physical.”
Haynesville’s defense certainly responded, limiting Westminster’s rushing attack to 40 yards in the second half.
“They did a much better job against our offense in the second half,” Badon said. “We just let too many points on the field in the first half. We knew we had to finish drives and not give up the big play. The effort was definitely there. We played hard. We controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the game. To beat a team like that, though, you have to have effort and execution for four quarters. It’s tough.”
The Crusaders opened the scoring with a three-play, 61-yard drive that finished with a 33-yard Cole Bentley touchdown run. After a Tornado punt, WCA drove 38 yards on six plays, but settled for a 29-yard Tyler Louviere field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Ten of Haynesville’s first 12 plays from scrimmage went for three or fewer yards. One went for 16 and one for 79 when Jackson broke loose on a keeper to narrow the gap to 10-6.
WCA continued to control the line of scrimmage the rest of the first half and got it to a two-score game when Donyell Young scored on a 11-yard run for a 17-6 lead with 5:11 left until intermission.
Haynesville attempted to respond with a few first downs, but WCA’s defense forced the Tornado to turn it over on downs at the HHS 41 with 1:56 left.
Instead of being able to run out the clock, though, WCA was forced to punt and Haynesville made the Crusaders pay with the 61-yard screen pass.
“We’ve run the screen for a long time,” Franklin said. “It seemed like the perfect time to run it. It’s one of those plays where you can break it for a long one or not get much. Fortunately, it worked out for us that time.”
Franklin faced a similar situation just on the other side of the halftime break. WCA booted the second-half kickoff out of bounds. Instead of taking it at the 35, like most teams do, Franklin elected to force the Crusaders to kick off again.
It worked like a charm with Jackson returned the kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown and a 20-17 lead.
“I just felt like we needed to take a chance right now,” Franklin said. “I knew there was a chance that I’d be second-guessed right there, but we were just hoping they would make a mistake and kick it to us.”
The rest of the third period was a virtual stalemate. WCA’s big chance came late in the third when the Crusders drove 70 yards on 10 plays, but a fumble on a first-down run was recovered by the visitors at the Tornado 10 with 3:39 left in the third. Westminster wouldn’t threaten again.
WCA’s defense made one last stand after that fumble, but Haynesville would score on its next two drives and ice the victory.
Haynesville would end up rushing for 264 yards on 12 first downs. Westminster rushed for 174 yards and passed for 79 on 14 first downs.
Critton had 117 yards on 19 carries, despite 14 of his 19 carries going for three or fewer yards. Early finished with four receptions for 95 yards.
“The game didn’t come done to one play,” Badon said. “There were a lot of big plays. Our kids played hard. Haynesville just had too many athletes.”