WATSON - Central coach Sid Edwards knew a surge was coming.
His Wildcats (3-3, 3-0) held Live Oak to minus-2 yards and were out to a huge 20-0 lead over the run-based Eagles at halftime. Still, he warned his players against the home team would and that could allow the home team back into the game.
Live Oak did just that, but Central took its coach’s words to heart and were able hold on for a 30-21 upset to remain atop the District 4-5A standings.
“That was about a good of half of defensive football that we’ve played all year,” Edwards said. “When Brett Beard is coaching that team, I have no doubt that there wouldn’t be any quit in them for sure. I knew it, I just didn’t think it was going to come in the second play of the half. I told my guys at halftime that they were coming.”
The first half hole proved too big for Live Oak (4-2, 1-2). The Eagles finished with 233 yards rushing that came mostly in the second half with Hagen Long finishing with 123 yards and a touchdown off a 50-yard scamper.
Trailing in the second half, the Eagles couldn’t get their passing game moving, finishing 4-10 for just 34 yards through the air.
Beard was frustrated by the disparity between the two halves.
“We’re a tale of a one-half team, that’s what we are,” Beard said. “We’re pretty good for about 23 minutes, that’s about all we can give right now.”
“We knew we didn’t play up to our level of how we should play,” quarterback Sal Palermo said. “It starts with me and it starts with the leaders on the team. We didn’t get the job done in the second half because we put ourselves in too deep of a hole. Put yourself down 20 and it’s hard to come back week in and week out.”
Central was about as even-keeled on offense, revolving around quarterback Sam Kennerson and running back Isiah Rankins. The Wildcats rushed 39 times for 160 yards and Kennerson went 6-12 passing for 146 yards and touchdown.
Kennerson, who returned from a concussion injury a week ago, ran for 80 yards and Rankins put up 75 yards on the ground.
Central opened the scoring with a 57-yard pass from Kennerson to a wide-open Le’Derrick Thomas on first down.
Due to its stellar defense, Central forced Live Oak into an uphill battle with field position and began to reap the rewards just before halftime. After a seven-yard loss for the Eagles and a shaky punt, the Wildcats received the ball at their own 38.
A 22-yard pass to Rankins moved the ball to the Eagles 10, where Kennerson scored on a 10-yard scramble.
Trailing by 14 points and needing a spark, Live Oak got the ball rolling with a middle screen on its first play of its next possession. Palermo lofted the ball to his intended target, but Wildcat linebacker Javonte Whiten was able to high point the ball and returned the interception to the Eagles’ six-yard line.
“Coach (Joey) Jarreau always says ‘if it’s easy, it’s wrong’,” Whiten said. “He threw the ball up and I just went and got it.”
For the Eagles' head coach, the turnover took away any chance at momentum before the half.
“You have to win the field possession battle,” Beard said. “You have to end every possession with a kick: it’s got to be a punt, extra point, or a field goal. It can’t be a turnover. You have got to give yourself a chance.”
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Rankins took the ball into the end zone to give Central a 20-0 lead.
“That was gigantic,” Edwards said. “(Whiten) made a great play on the ball. This was one of those games that both coaches can go back to and pick about seven or eight things out that could have flipped the tide one way or another. That certainly was one of them.”
Coming out of halftime, Live Oak took advantage of a facemask penalty and Long ripped off a 50-yard run up the middle to put the hosts on the scoreboard.
“It sent the message that we weren’t done,” Palermo said.
Central was able to get the ball inside the 10 on its next possession, but a reverse on third down was blown up and the Wildcats had to settle for a 38-yard field goal to make it 23-7.
That three-score lead was short lived, when Palermo made a late pitch to MJ Hughes who scored from 62 yards out to pull the Eagles within 23-14
“Our coach told us that they were going to come out fighting, but we didn’t come out with our heads strapped on,” Whiten said. “But we finished it right.”
Live Oak began to wear down Central’s defense late in the fourth, completing a 77-yard drive with Palermo covering that final 36 yards.
The Eagles opted for an onside kick that didn’t pan out, enabling Central to pick up three first downs when Rankins broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and ran 21 yards for an insurance score.
“If we play 48 minutes, we think we can compete and win against anybody in the state,” Palermo said. “We haven’t done that this year. We’re just putting in a quarter here and half there. That’s not going to cut it when you start playing quality teams like are in our district."
CENTRAL 30, LIVE OAK 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
CEN 7 13 3 7 - 30
LO 0 0 14 7 - 21
CEN – Sam Kennerson 57 pass to Le’Derrick Thomas (Fernando Perez kick)
CEN – Kennerson 10 run (Perez kick)
CEN – Isiah Rankins 6 run
LO – Hagen Long 50 (Tanner Martin kick)
CEN – Perez 38 field goal
LO – MJ Hughes 62 run (Martin kick)
LO – Sal Palermo 36 run (Martin kick)
CEN – Rankins 21 run (Perez kick)
CEN (STAT) LO
10 First Downs 5
39 – 160 Rushes – Yards 28 – 233
146 Passing Yards 34
6 – 12 – 0 Comp – Att – Int 4 - 10 – 1
4 – 50.5 Punts – Average 5 – 31
0 Fumbles Lost 0
6 – 35 Penalties - Yards 3 – 35