Many was 12 minutes from its first state football championship.
And the Tigers had all of the momentum in the Class 2A title game. But then it all vanished.
No. 3 Kinder (14-1) took advantage of two fourth-quarter interceptions to score 16 points and rally for a 34-20 win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, knocking off the top-seeded Tigers (13-2) and winning its first state title since 1978.
Jordan Vickers, the Yellow Jackets’ converted offensive lineman-turned-fullback, rumbled for a game-high 192 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, on his way to earning Outstanding Player of the Game honors.
Vickers broke free untouched right up the middle for a 55-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that put the Jackets up 18-7 in a first half that was dominated by Kinder. The Jackets had a chance to go up by three scores, but quarterback Austin Pickle fumbled on Many’s 3-yard line with less than a minute to play in the first half.
Many coach Jess Curtis called his team’s first-half performance a “comedy of errors,” but the Tigers’ coaches were able to make some adjustments at halftime to settle the team down.
Many used the momentum of the Pickle fumble and turned it into a dominating third-quarter performance that flipped the game’s momentum and made it appear as if the No. 1-ranked Tigers would run away with their first state title in their first championship appearance since 1988. Xavier Dias scored on a 1-yard run two plays after Many recovered one of three Kinder fumbles to pull the Tigers within four points at 18-14, and then he scored on a 6-yard run on Many’s next possession to put the Tigers up 20-18.
Many drove 81 yards on nine plays for that touchdown and looked every bit the No. 1 team in Class 2A. But the Tigers ran just four plays between that drive and the final minute of the game, as two turnovers haunted their hopes at a championship.
“I thought we had the momentum,” Curtis said. “I thought we had a lot of momentum. … I felt really good about our changes going into the fourth quarter.”
But Kinder was able to snatch the momentum back, mostly on the stocky and powerful legs of Vickers, who played left guard last season and was moved to the backfield when Kinder coach Bret Fuselier arrived for his first season at the helm of the Yellow Jackets’ program.
Vickers carried the ball 14 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Xavier Dias, Many’s junior quarterback who also led the Tigers with 16 tackles, said Vickers “ran like a bull.”
He bulled his way up the middle for a 3-yard score, running over Dias in the process, to put Kinder up 26-20 with 1:52 to play, and he scored the game’s final touchdown by breaking off right tackle and rumbling 25 yards untouched for the decisive 34-20 final score.
“I really thought the defense would hold up,” Dias said. “We just couldn’t get ’em off the field.”
Khalil Leblanc, who had one interception return for a touchdown and also intercepted Dias to set up the go-ahead, 87-yard drive in the fourth quarter, said he felt if the Jackets’ defense could put the ball in the offense’s hands, then Many wouldn’t be able to stop them.
“I just knew if we could get the ball back to our offense, we would win,” Leblanc said, “because they couldn’t stop our offense.”
Kinder ran the ball 56 times for 316 yards in the game, controlling the game and keeping time of possession for 29:37 of the 48-minute game. Bickers did the majority of that damage, though Welles Cooley (46 yards), Taylor Johnson (43 yards) and Pickle (29 yards, TD) also contributed on the group. Pickle also was an efficient 7-of-12 passing for 63 yards.
Many, meanwhile, struggled on the ground. The Tigers’ normally high-power rushing attack, which averaged more than 300 yards per game, was held to just 171 yards on 33 carries. Kentrell Maxie rushed 13 times for 88 yards, while Dias had 37 yards on six carries.
Kinder’s defense pressured Dias nearly every time he dropped to pass, forcing him into a 4-of-18 night with 91 yards and four interceptions. Dias did rush for two scores and also threw a 39-yard touchdown to Josh Berry in the first quarter.
“It was not his best game,” Curtis said of Dias. “Tonight wasn’t his night, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He’s a big part of why we’re here.”