BATON ROUGE -- Two teams. Two defending state champions. One thrilling early-season match-up.
That’s what football fans expected to see when Zachary and Catholic High met in a clash of Louisiana powerhouses at Memorial Stadium Friday night.
And, boy, did they deliver.
Swapping leads for the entire game, the Bears used a bit of trickery to convert on a two-point conversion with 15 seconds left in regulation, propelling them to a 31-30 victory over the Broncos.
Down 30-23 with 2:06 left in the game, Catholic quarterback Cameron Dartez marched his squad down the field on a nine-play, 80-yard drive that ended when Dartez connected with wideout Solomon Singleton for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing two-point conversion, Dartez flipped a reverse to Gregory Martin before the receiver tossed it to an uncovered Forrest Roy in the back of the endzone to put the Bears (2-0) on top.
Zachary (1-1) couldn’t muster a final comeback after that, with quarterback Keilon Brown throwing a pair of incompletions before finding receiver Chandler Whitfield for a 13-yard gain that caused time to expire and ended the game.
“No doubt — a tremendous game,” Zachary coach David Brewerton said. “A physical high school football game. A lot of fun to be a part of. Obviously, I wish it would’ve come out different, but it happens.”
This game — which featured the defending non-select 5A Champion (Zachary) and select Division I (Catholic) state champions — certainly lived up to the billing, with both teams going blow for blow until the final buzzer.
After forcing a Catholic three-and-out on the first series, the Broncos quickly put themselves in front when Brown, who finished with 340 yards of total offense, hit Whitfield on a slant for a 78-yard touchdown pass on Zachary’s second play from scrimmage.
But the Bears immediately responded on a 10-play, 69-yard drive punctuated by a 3-yard touchdown run from Joshua Parker, one of two scores for the junior running back on the day. Matthew Goodson’s missed PAT attempt kept Zachary in front, 7-6.
After punts from both teams on their ensuing possessions, Brown threw an interception to defensive back Jonathan Mestayer, one of two picks thrown by the junior signal caller.
Dartez punched the ball in the endzone five plays later on a 1-yard quarterback sneak to give the Bears their first lead of the game, 13-7.
Mirroring their opponents, Zachary answered the challenge by marching 80 yards down the field on 17 plays, collecting five first downs and converting on four third- and fourth-down attempts along the way. The drive ended with R.J. Allen’s 3-yard touchdown plunge up the middle that gave Zachary a 14-13 advantage just before halftime.
But thanks to a Bears 75-yard kickoff return from the speedy Braelen Morgan, Catholic set up kicker Goodson for a 28-yard field goal try as the first-half clock expired to give them a 16-14 lead at the break.
On the first drive of the third quarter, Zachary’s offense picked up where it left off in the first half, using 12 plays to march 80 yards against Catholic before Brown found Khris Simmons streaking down the middle for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
But after the Zachary defense forced the Bears into a turnover on downs at the Catholic 34-yard line, Brown threw another interception, this time to Jaylin Armwood seven yards away from the endzone.
The Bears took advantage of the extra opportunity, going 93 yards down the field, highlighted by Parker’s 35-yard scamper and a 27-yard pitch-and-catch between Dartez and Martin. On second-and-goal, Parker stormed ahead for a 2-yard touchdown that put Catholic back on top, 23-20 early in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos tied the game on O’Brien’s 29-yard field goal, but the real excitement came on the ensuing kickoff, when Catholic’s Brian Hibbard fumbled the ball at his own 46-yard line.
Zachary recovered the ball, and Brown didn’t waste any time, breaking loose for a 46-yard score up the gut on the first play of the drive to put his team ahead 30-23 with 2:06 to go.
But it wasn’t meant to be for Zachary, which gave up four first downs — including one on a fourth-down attempt — on the last defensive stand before the Bears found the end zone twice, once on a touchdown followed by the two-point conversion to secure the victory.
“[Catholic] made plays offensively when they absolutely had to make them all night… but I’m proud of our kids,” Brewerton said. “We’re gonna be better because of this game. It was a hard-fought game. That’s why we play them every year.
“That’s two good football teams going at it right there. That’s a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we couldn’t close it out.”
Up next for Zachary is a home game against Madison Prep Academy at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14.
CATHOLIC HIGH 31, ZACHARY 30
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Zachary 7 7 6 10 -- 30
Catholic 6 10 0 15 -- 31
Zachary - Keilon Brown to Chandler Whitfield for 78-yard pass (Ethan O’Brien kick)
Catholic - Joshua Parker 2-yard run (Matthew Goodson kick no good)
Catholic - Cameron Dartez 1-yard run (Goodson kick)
Zachary - R.J. Allen 2-yard run (O’Brien kick)
Catholic - Goodson 28-yard field goal
Zachary - Brown to Khris Simmons for 33-yard pass (two-point conversion no good)
Catholic - Parker 6-yard run (Goodson kick)
Zachary - O’Brien 29-yard field goal
Zachary - Brown 46-yard run (Goodson kick)
Catholic - Dartez to Solomon Singleton for 34-yard pass (two-point conversion good, Gregory Martin to Forrest Roy
15 First downs 14
296 Total yards 398
27-131 Rushes-yards 36-159
165 Passing yards 239
20-24-0 Passes 11-20-2
1-1 Fumbles-lost 2-0
2-47.5 Punts-average 1-29
4-30 Penalties-yards 3-25