Chants of “Sweet Sixteen” from a robust Haynesville crowd showered the football team Friday as they sprinted to greet fans after raising the Class 1A state championship trophy.
For a program that’s won the second-most titles regardless of classification, winning never seems to get old and everybody knows the history.
But it didn’t come easy for the No. 1 seed Golden Tornado, who scored the final 21 points to whirl past No. 2 Mangham, 42-21.
Haynesville (14-0) recorded its 11th perfect season in which it won a championship, the first since David Franklin took over as head coach in 2002.
Kendrick Jackson’s fumble recovery for a touchdown late in the third quarter broke a 21-21 tie and sparked the Tors’ run.
Jackson put his helmet on the ball carried by Mangham running back Kemme Weeks, and the linebacker wrestled the football away and rolled into the end zone.
“I saw the open hole,” said Jackson, who said he knew where he was on the field and smartly rolled for the score. Jackson was voted Haynesville’s most outstanding player with 9 1/2 tackles, 2 1/2 for loss.
While Jackson may not have had many words to describe his game-changing play — arguably the biggest play through the first four championship games — Haynesville coach David Franklin gave it a shot.
“Any time you get a turnover in that situation, it’s a momentum-changer and a huge swing,” Franklin said. “It was kind of a gift, but it was also a great hit. It was a good play.”
Mangham (11-3) had the momentum at the time, stopping a Haynesville drive that reached the 25-yard line after the Dragons scored on the last drive of the first half and first drive of the second half.
But punter Miguel DeLeon pinned the Dragons at the 2-yard line, the first of two punts inside the 5-yard line to set up Jackson’s forced fumble.
Haynesville started the game strongly as senior CaVontae Critton scored on a 4-yard run, which senior Tyus Early set up with a 61-yard run.
The Tors didn’t trail in a game this season until Weeks ran 26 yards for a 7-6 Dragons lead early in the second quarter. Weeks, voted Mangham’s most outstanding player, ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
“We addressed that before the game and what to do if we were in that situation,” Franklin said. “A lot of times you can get down in a situation like that, but we came back and did a great job.
“We had a bend-but-don’t-break attitude for the rest of the night.”
Haynesville responded with scoring runs from Tyus Early (4 yards) and James Jackson (22 yards) for a 21-7 edge with 8:52 left in the second quarter.
All 367 of Haynesville’s yards came on the ground while Mangham’s 307 yards were split into 198 rushing and 109 passing.
Mangham made its push with 14 straight points on a Trei Criff 30-yard reception from Ridge Heisler with 43 seconds left in the first half before a Weeks’ 2-yard run midway through the quarter.
“I think the coaches and the players had stars in their eyes,” said Mangham coach Tommy Tharp, whose Dragons were playing in their first state title game since 1995 and own just one championship (1956). “I think Haynesville’s experience with its coaches and its players was an advantage — I think David Franklin has been coming to these things since he was 5 or maybe since before birth if his mom brought him down.
“(Reaching the title game) shows what’s possible … and for three quarters, we were living a dream.”
After Kendrick Jackson’s fumble recovery, a Cutter Nelson interception led to a Jerrell Jackson 58-yard touchdown run for a 35-21 edge.
Jerrell Jackson and James Jackson then broke up a third-down pass to force a Manham punt, and Early added his second touchdown run (21 yards) to seal the win.
Five Haynesville backs gained at least 30 yards — Tyus Early (127), Jerrell Jackson (96), Critton (75), James Jackson (33) and Keshawn Harris (30).