ST. MARTINVILLE — After a 3-0 start to the football season was followed by consecutive losses to Westgate and Carencro, St. Martinville Senior High started District 6-3A play Thursday night against an undefeated Abbeville High team coming into the game with a 5-0 record and off of wins over Northside and Opelousas High.
They also had star running back Blake Saddler, who was already past 1,000 yards rushing for the year in only five games.
Behind senior quarterback Tanner Harrison, the Tigers survived a back and forth first quarter that saw the teams combine for four touchdowns and exchange the lead four times. SMSH built a 27-12 lead over the Wildcats at halftime.
But in the second half, Abbeville rallied with two touchdowns to cut the lead to 27-24 in the fourth quarter and the Tigers had to hold off the Wildcat rally, which included two possessions inside the SMSH 30 yard line with less than two minutes remaining.
The Tigers held on to win 27-24 to move to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in district while Abbeville fell to 5-1, 0-1.
“I think at halftime we celebrated a little too much because they didn’t score on our defense, they scored on klck returns,” SMSH coach Vince DeRouen said. “I think we kind of shut it down a little bit.
“But we made plays at the end and when it counted and I was glad to get the ‘W,’ especially in district play. They came in and felt good about themselves and we needed that, we hadn’t won on the field in a month.”
Harrison threw for 80 yards and ran for 105 yards for SMSH. Steven Blanco had two touchdown runs for the Tigers and Mandrell Butler added an interceptions return for a score as St. Martinville scored all of its points in the first half.
“We felt that we gave away the kickoff returns but we thought that defensively we were playing well and offensively we moved the ball when we wanted to,” DeRouen said. “Second half was a different story. We moved the ball well but when it was time to punch it in, we didn’t.”
The SMSH coach said that the coaching staff stayed on the kids even after the two losses coming into the game.
“The kids are resilient,” he said. “We played against two really, really good teams — we didn’t play against the Sisters of the Holy Family.
“We took our lumps in those games and tonight these people came in undefeated and our kids fought the ball and made the plays.”
As for Saddler, the AHS senior didn’t disappoint. He had consecutive kickoff returns for touchdowns, rushed for 176 yards and another score and totaled more than 350 all-purpose yards in the game and almost won the game for the Wildcats.
Now the Tigers head on the road to face a Kaplan team that has a 2-4 record, but has pushed every team, almost upsetting a ranked Loreauville team and coming close to knocking off a red hot Erath team
“We know the district is going to be tough,” DeRouen said. “Everyone had a good record in the district. We’re going to go back to the drawing board, do the things that we do well, clean up our mistakes and I think that we’re going to be fine eventually.”