A young Airline offense has been searching for big plays and consistent drives all season, and that’s exactly what the Vikings delivered Friday.
Quarterback Jacob James found an open D’Juan Byrd for 51 yards with just 21 seconds remaining to edge Haughton 28-21 on the road.
“I knew we couldn’t have any negative plays (on the last drive),” said James, a junior who moved into the starting role several weeks ago. “The offensive line did a great job, and this is a great feeling.
“We’re coming together as a team.”
Byrd, a sophomore, slipped past Haughton’s coverage and sprinted to the end zone to improve Airline’s record to 3-4 and 1-1 in District 1-5A, snapping a three-game losing streak that included losses to Neville, West Monroe and Byrd.
“I was just thinking, ‘Make a play, just get open,'” Byrd said.
“People said we couldn’t move the ball, but we’re just believing in ourselves now.”
On the ensuing kickoff, a Haughton returner slipped and fumbled the ball on the Bucs’ last possesion.
Haughton reached the Airline 37-yard line on the previous drive, but quarterback Will Haines fired a pass just out of bounds under pressure on fourth down. Receiver P.J. Douglas nearly made the catch in bounds.
Bucs coach Rodney Guin said the Vikings made just a few more plays Friday.
“I told our team that we had a chance on offense to win it and then had a chance on defense to force overtime,” said Guin, whose Bucs dropped to 5-2 and 1-1 in 1-5A. “I told people all week that not many teams would have been better than 2-4 with the schedule Airline played.
“We missed some opportunities to make catches, and we missed some passes tonight.”
Haughton didn’t have Jarred Craft, who missed the game with an injury, but Guin said Craft was close to playing.
“It didn’t really affect the game because we do have a lot weapons,” Guin said.
Junior receiver Javonte Woodard gave the Bucs an early 7-0 lead with a 20-yard touchdown from Haines on the first possession.
Airline responded with a 26-yard pass from James to Shuncee Thomas to tie the score at 7-7 midway through the first quarter.
A crazy second-quarter exchange started when James was stripped by a Haughton defender after a 50-yard run.
Airline recovered a Haines fumble on the next play and had the ball at the Bucs 15-yard line.
The Bucs defense held, and Ryan Jameson missed a 26-yard field goal attempt. Jameson made all four extra-point efforts.
Haughton’s defense held again when senior Jerrod Craft intercepted James to keep a 7-7 score at the half.
The Bucs struck in the third quarter with a Haines 3-yard run, but the Vikings responded again with a Johnson 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal.
Johnson scored again early in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard plunge to hand Airline a 21-14 edge.
Haughton’s Micah Larkins returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 21-21 before Airline achieved the defense stop it needed and the game-winning drive.
“The offensive line did an outstanding job tonight, and I thought (James) ran and threw well,” said Airline coach Bo Meeks.
“We finished drives tonight, and I was just telling our team the whole time to stay the course.
“This was about as must win as a game can get.”