Byrd’s offense needed a pick-me-up after a slow start, and the special teams units were happy to oblige.
The Yellow Jackets scored two touchdowns on special teams and a bad Airline punt snap set up another score as Byrd grabbed a 31-13 win against the Vikings on Thursday at Lee Hedges Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets (6-0, 1-0 District 1-5A), who came in ranked No. 3 in the Class 5A poll, got a spark when senior Dayton Johnson blocked an Airline punt with the Vikings backed up.
Byrd teammate Tyler Johnson scooped the ball in the end zone to supply the Jackets with a 7-0 lead with 1:09 left in the first quarter.
“I just wanted to affect the intensity of the game, and I just wanted to help my teammates and be a factor,” said Dayton Johnson, who’s also a defensive back. “I feel like we fight no matter who is on the field.
“I feel like this defense is the best in the state. This secondary works our hardest, we feel like we’re underrated, and we want to come out here and make a statement.”
The punt block came after two Byrd drives ended in turnovers as Airline’s Tyler McCallister recovered a fumble and Tyrice Neal intercepted a pass in the end zone.
But Byrd’s defense forced two three-and-outs, the second of which resulted in the blocked punt.
Airline (2-4, 0-1 District 1-5A) didn’t get a first down on their third drive either, and Byrd’s Demondrick Wells returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown.
“We’ve played well on special teams all year long, and we always talk about playing good defense, good special teams and not turning the ball over,” said Byrd coach Mike Suggs. “We did all of that except not turn the ball over.
“They are a very good defensive football team, and we made some mistakes offensively that we’re going to get corrected.”
The Vikings fourth consecutive three-and-out led to a high punt snap which punter Bryce Bailey recovered at the 1-yard line.
Byrd’s Dominic Haggerty plunged in on the next play for a 21-0 lead with 4:26 left in the second quarter.
“(Special teams) gave them 21 points. Twenty-one points to Byrd of gimmes, you can’t do that because they’re a great football team, and it’s extremely frustrating,” said Airline coach Bo Meeks. “I couldn’t be (more proud) of our defense … they gave us a chance to win the game. We’ve got to fix our mistakes, and we preach and preach but we just gotta keep grinding on it.”
Airline sophomore quarterback Noah Hildebrand inserted some enthusiasm late in the first half as led Airline on a 70-yard drive. But Byrd’s Jacob Bullard intercepted a fourth-down pass to shut out the Vikings in the first half.
Down 31-0 midway through the fourth quarter, Hildebrand led two scoring drives in which he scored on a 12-yard run and threw a 4-yard touchdown to Anthony Mulrenin.
“We were already down pretty good after the mistakes (in the first half), so we had to throw to get back into it,” Meeks said. “They were giving us a lot of man coverage, and he did a nice job of taking advantage of it.
“Missing that opportunity there before the half was big because we had a chance to get back in the game.”
Hildebrand finished with 210 yards on 20-of-33 passing with two total touchdowns and an interception.
But Byrd’s defense ruled the night, holding Airline scoreless until touchdown drives of 95 and 80 yards in the last four minutes increased the Vikings’ offensive total to 237 yards.
Byrd gained 177 yards, partly because of limited possessions with two special teams scores and a 1-yard drive, but the Yellow Jackets put it away with a 59-yard drive to open the third-quarter ending in a Tysen Hardman with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Haggerty (52 rushing yards) and Tray Allen (50 rushing yards) led the way.
Byrd kicker Jake Wyss made a 31-yard field goal and all four extra points while booming touchbacks to keep the Vikings pinned back.