On the night New Iberia Senior High morphed from a run-heavy offense to a pass-happy “O,” Christain Walker got his hands on the ball enough to make a big difference.
The junior wide receiver, pressed into service as a quarterback the first four games, caught 15 passes for 231 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown reception in a second-half comeback, to help position the Yellow Jackets for a potential game-winning field goal in the waning seconds Friday against Barbe.
Walker dove in the end zone for a pass that just missed his fingertips with 24.5 seconds to play, NISH trailing 28-26. Unfortunately, fate stepped in to prevent him from getting his hands on the ball again.
The team’s seasoned placekick holder suffered a slight leg injury that required medical attention as he lay prone in the end zone. He walked to the sideline, ineligible to take the snap on the next play.
Backup holder Courtland Blake, a senior running back, almost reluctantly took the field to hold for senior placekicker Luke Landry’s 39-yard field goal attempt to beat the Bucs.
The snap was fair, the ball was placed, then kicked in a low line drive to preserve Barbe’s second win in five outings in 2021. The 28-26 loss kept the snakebit Jacket winless at 0-5.
NISH’s once-roaring crowd was stunned, silenced by the near-miss. Coaches and players were equally crushed.
“When Christain went down with a cramp, he’d have to sit out one play. We almost didn’t even try to kick it,” NISH head coach Curt Ware said about the field goal attempt, noting Blake, who had 100-plus yards receiving and rushing, has had little practice as a kick holder.
Would Landry’s kick have been true paired with his regular holder?
“It definitely would have had a better chance. It also goes back to the missed extra point. We don’t miss that and we’re tied (28-28),” Ware said.
Landry was 2-for-3 on PATs. The miss followed senior wideout Christain Thomas’ 69-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Allen Hamilton that ignited NISH’s third-quarter rally, cutting the deficit to 28-13.
Barbe owned a comfortable 21-7 lead at intermission thanks to wide receiver Jamaal Levi’s 81-yard scoring pass from quarterback Will McClain at 8:12 in the first quarter and his 29-yard TD reception at 9:57 in the second quarter that put the Bucs up, 14-0.
After NISH cut the lead in half, 14-7, on senior CB Kedrick Phillip’s electrifying 94-yard punt return for a TD, Levi scored his third touchdown on a two-yard run 17.4 seconds before the half.
The Bucs extended their halftime lead to 28-7 with a 12-play, 82-yard drive to start the second half. The 4:36 scoring march was capped by running back Tylan Ceasar’s one-yard plunge at the 7:24 mark.
That’s when NISH’s “D” stepped up and the “O” went Air Jackets. NISH scored the last 19 points, including two fourth-quarter touchdowns, with its newfound aerial game.
Hamilton, starting for the first time, completed 20 of 28 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns. At halftime he was 6-for-11 for 76 yards.
“We didn’t have much choice. We couldn’t run very well,” Ware said.
NISH’s QB said “everything was working — 10 and outs, slants, the hitches, the fades.” And, he said, the “O” line gave him time to find Walker, Thomas, Blake and junior running back Cedric Moore.
He completed four passes on a 12-play, 76-yard scoring march that ended with Moore’s 12-yard touchdown run on the second play of the fourth quarter to slice Barbe’s lead to 28-19. After NISH forced a three-and-out, the Jackets tallied again on his 70-yarder to Walker to make it 28-26 with 8:05 to play.
The teams swapped turnovers as Phillip intercepted a long McClain pass intended for wideout Kenneth Golla. Then Barbe recovered a fumbled snap.
NISH’s defense forced another three-and-out highlighted by Quentin Cook’s third-down sack of McClain. The Bucs punted and the Jackets started their ill-fated drive at the NISH 20.
“The only holder we had, he couldn’t get in there. He tried, though,” Hamilton said, somberly.
Ware praised the offense and the defense.
“We probably threw it tonight more than the whole year. The offensive line did a good job of pass protection. Allen throws the ball well and Christain (Walker) catches the ball real well,” the coach said.
“The defense? Oh, yeah. It’s 28-7. And then we have a chance to win.”
Ware believed the Jackets can bounce back from the disappointment when they realize they played well most of the game.
“It’s so hard to get kids to believe that. I always tell the kids, ‘Win or lose Friday night, you’ve got to come back to practice.’ To be winless and come back from 21 says something about your character,” he said. “I’m proud of the way the kids fought back. We’ve got to get over this winless hurdle. Sometimes you feel you deserve a better fate. (But) you’ve got to get the little things right to get a W.”