Higgins denies ESJ district clincher with second half rally

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2011

RESERVE — Just as it did a week ago, East St. John jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead in a crucial district contest. But the final result did not remain static.

Higgins rallied from that deficit to capture a 20-15 win at Joe Keller Memorial Stadium and create chaos atop the District 8-5A standings, where ESJ, Higgins and Hahnville are all tied with identical 3-1 records.

Darion Monroe’s pass into the endzone as time expired was intercepted by Rhyidh Wilson, the third turnover he forced on the night.

As each of the three teams have already played the other two, the door is open for a potential three-way district champion if each wins next week.

But early on it looked like things would be as clear-cut as could be, with the Wildcats taking another step toward outright ownership of the league.

The Wildcats (6-3, 3-1) scored in quick succession in the first quarter, nullifying its own mistake on one play and taking advantage of a Higgins error on another. On the first play, ESJ quarterback Darion Monroe picked up a fumbled handoff and got loose, scoring on a 27-yard touchdown play. That made it 6-0; ESJ immediately got the ball back when the Wildcats recovered a short kickoff in Higgins territory. Kadeem Vance scored on a 2-yard run to make it 12-0.

But Higgins (7-2, 3-1) rallied. East St. John drove again to the Hurricanes’ 20, but Higgins held and Traman McQuarters’ field goal attempt was no good. That set up a methodical, 80-yard, 10-play drive capped by a 10-yard run by Darrel Williams and highlighted by a 36-yard run by quarterback Cedric Jackson, making it 12-6 midway through the second quarter.

The teams traded mistakes on the next two possessions. Darion Monroe’s attempted punt was negated when he was ruled down after crouching to gather in a low snap; but Higgins turned it back over when Williams converted a fourth down run, but fumbled it away. Clarence Scott recovered for ESJ.

The Wildcats drove down on their first possession of the second half, reaching the Higgins’ 1, but the drive stalled on a fourth down false start; the penalty negated a Monroe sneak attempt, and McQuarters converted a short field goal to make it 15-6.

Higgins stuck with their run-first gameplan, again driving 80 yards and again scoring, this time in 13 plays, the final one a play-action pass from Jackson to tight end Paul Courtney. He caught a 31-yard touchdown pass, running unchecked up the seam, making it 15-12 with 31 seconds left in the third.

The game turned there. East St. John turned it over on its next possession after a short completion from Monroe to Deszmann Broussard — Broussard was stripped clean by defensive back Rhyidh Wilson and the Hurricanes took over on the ESJ 28. Williams chewed up 27 yards on four carries before Jackson converted a 1-yard sneak to make it 18-15. Williams ran for two to make it a five-point game early in the fourth.

Wilson came up big again on ESJ’s next possession, intercepting Monroe on a deep sideline route; the teams would simply trade punts on the next two possessions.

Needing a stop, ESJ came ever-so close on a fourth-and-one play at the Higgins’ 44 with just under four minutes remaining. The gutsy call paid off, though not without drama; Jackson fumbled, and Williams picked it up, powering for a first down. The measurement could not have been closer; and after another Higgins’ first down, ESJ forced a punt, rushed it, and a shank left ESJ with the ball at the 50 with 58 seconds left.

But time was not on ESJ’s side, and it was left with one final play, a short Hail Mary-ish pass from the Higgins 27. For the third time, Wilson delivered on an interception.