EUNICE — Grief-stricken but victorious, Erath’s Bobcats left Eunice High School with a convincing victory on the road Friday night in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs.
Erath never trailed while relying on a punishing ground game featuring senior running back Elijah Mitchell behind a tough offensive line and one of two bruising fullbacks, a combination that resulted in 412 yards rushing, 314 of them by Mitchell, who scored six touchdowns in the 49-20 victory.
There wasn’t a dry eye after the game, however, because a former Erath Bobcat, Ross Granger, succumbed to brain cancer that night at the family’s home in Erath. He was 19.
Granger’s father, Nathan Granger, an assistant football coach on the team, and younger brother, junior quarterback/free safety Mason Granger, had an impact on the outcome that never was in doubt after halftime. The elder Granger broke the news immediately after the game to his team and the Eunice Bobcats, who kneeled shoulder to shoulder with the winners at midfield. (See related story on Page A1.)
Erath head coach David Comeaux, who also talked about the loss to the community, said, “As far as the game, I’m proud of my team. It was a hard-fought game.
“In the second quarter, they started moving the ball and scored a couple times, but our team answered the bell in the second half,” he said.
“You know, against our offense, they started showing us different looks. My offensive line was able to adjust to whatever they threw at us.”
Eunice head coach Paul Trosclair, whose team closed the season at 6-5, called the loss “a total buttwhipping.”
“They dominated both sides of the ball. I thought we had a chance after halftime when we stopped them first. But then we didn’t get in the end zone,” he said.
Erath’s defense got the ball rolling early. Devin Broussard, a senior cornerback, recovered a Eunice fumble in the backfield on the game-opening drive to set up the visiting Bobcats at the Eunice 17.
From there, Mitchell rushed four times, going the last three yards for the touchdown and, coupled with Dylan Floris’ PAT kick, Erath led 7-0. Erath never looked back on their way to an 8-3 record and regional game at home Friday against No. 1 West Feliciana.
The Saints, 11-0, tuned up for the postseason game with a 60-12 romp Friday over Donaldsonville.
Comeaux acknowledged it would be a tough week of preparation in the wake of their former teammate’s death. He was counting on the coaching and leadership of the players who once again proved themselves.
“You’ve got to give it to these kids because they are warriors. The fullback position was shared by our starting defensive end and starting linebacker. We have a wide receiver who plays cornerback for us. Elijah’s put on defense whenever we need him,” Comeaux said. “But most of all, Mason Granger, he’s our go-to-quarterback, the guy who makes things happen for us and he’s our starting free safety, captain of the defense. He’s such a big leader for us.”
Once again, Mitchell led the way. He ran 3 yards and 41 yards for touchdowns in the first quarter and built the lead to 21-0 with a 21-yarder about 1 ½ minutes into the second quarter.
His lightning strike ability was showcased in the waning seconds of the second quarter, after Eunice had scored two quick touchdowns to close the gap to 21-14. Running right and about to be swarmed under for a loss, Mitchell reversed field and raced untouched 62 yards for a TD and a halftime lead of 28-14.
Comeaux said, “You know, Elijah’s a workhorse. He gets over 200 yards, and it doesn’t seem like he really got that many. The beauty about him is he chews it up and chews it up.”
Trosclair said, “We knew he was good. We knew he was going to get his yards. Well, he’s the real deal. He runs real hard. I thought we could move the ball and keep it away from him.”
Mason Granger, who rushed four times for 65 yards and had a 46-yard touchdown run nullified by a penalty late in the first quarter, also tipped his cap to Mitchell and said, “The playoffs gave him a little boost, made him enjoy it a little more, especially since last year.”
The victory was hard-earned, the quarterback said.
“It was physical like we expected. I thought we were a lot more physical, especially on the offensive line. Even on blown plays we still made things happen,” he said.
Trosclair said his team had a chance to get back in the ballgame. The key play was during his team’s second series of the second half after Mitchell fumbled away a punt and Eunice recovered at the Eunice 34. Eunice’s Jaden Brasseaux, a junior quarterback, and Averey Lee, a senior halfback, were thwarted by a swarming defense and a flag.
“We had a holding call right here (on a long run by Lee). We needed a touchdown right there to make it 28-21,” Trosclair said.
Eunice’s second-quarter TDs were scored by Brasseaux on a 1-yard run with 9:49 to play to cut the deficit to 21-7 and by Lee at the 48.4-second mark to make it 21-14.
Eunice almost faced an even larger deficit right off the bat in the third quarter. Erath’s Coy LeBlanc, a junior running back, fielded the second half kickoff and returned it 65 yards for an apparent touchdown. However, a penalty erased the scoring return.
Mitchell rounded out the scoring in the second half with a 2-yard run in the third quarter and a 60-yard run in the fourth quarter that followed a 3-yard f touchdown burst by junior fullback Caleb Jagneaux that put the visitors ahead 42-14 with 9:06 to play.