NEW ORLEANS – Riding a two-game losing streak is not the way Live Oak would like to be entering the Class 5A state playoffs.
But all was not bad for the Eagles in their regular-season finale, a 24-14 non-district loss to Holy Cross Thursday night at City Park’s Tad Gormley Stadium.
In game featuring a tale of two halves, the second 24 minutes belonged to Coach Brett Beard’s team who recovered two onside kicks, passed for 200-plus yards and two touchdowns in the final period to rally from a 14-0 halftime deficit and threaten to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Quarterback Sal Palermo passed for 248 yards and touchdowns covering 28 and 3 yards, respectively, to wide receiver Grant Richardson to spur a second-half surge in which the Eagles defense also played a significant role.
What Live Oak could not overcome were four turnovers, particularly three lost fumbles and a somewhat meaningless interception on the game’s penultimate play.
Live Oak (5-5 overall, 2-4 in District 4-5A) now awaits its playoff pairing as a likely seed in the upper 20s. The Eagles entered the game as a projected No. 26 seed, looking to end the regular season with a second victory in as many seasons against the Tigers.
Holy Cross (6-4 overall, 3-3 in District 9-5A) moves on to the Division I playoffs in which the Tigers were an automatic qualifier in the Select Schools postseason for Class 5A schools.
“We showed some fight,’’ Beard said. “It’s the first time this season we’ve fought for a full 48 minutes. We’ve been on a roller coaster ride for much of the season, up and then down. But we fought for a full 48 minutes. We didn’t play all that well. But we fought. So we might be onto something.’’
Palermo completed 16 of 31 passes for 248 yards and the touchdowns to Richardson, who totaled five receptions good for 118 yards. Palermo completed 12 of 23 attempts in the second half in passing for 213 yards.
“Obviously, this was not the outcome we were looking for,’’ Palermo said. “We were looking for a win going into the playoffs. We didn’t execute as well as we would have liked to, but we fought for a full 48 minutes. I was proud of these guys for that. We were like a brotherhood.’’
A short punt and a lost fumble set up the Tigers from the New Orleans Catholic League for their first- and second-quarter touchdowns that were via scoring passes from John Dade Wooton to wide receivers Jalen Johnson and Tyler Kirkwood covering 27 and 36 yards, respectively.
A 69-yard run by tailback Jalen Handy early in the final period increased Holy Cross’ advantage to 21-0. The touchdown came after a 10-play drive by Live Oak stalled at the Tigers’ 25-yard line.
Palermo, Richardson and wide receiver Darian Ricard finally got untracked following their opponents’ third touchdown to spark the Eagles to a five-play, 77-yard scoring possession. Richardson’s leaping reception in the end zone from 28 yards out capped the drive.
Defensive lineman Connor Taylor then recovered the first of two onside kicks by Blaise Preister to put the Eagles in business at their own 49-yard line.
The possession was short-lived and ended with a third lost fumble that produced a back-breaking 36-yard field goal by Nolan Heitmeier.
“We have got to do a better job of making breaks and making our opponents pay for those mistakes,’’ Beard said.
The Eagles drove 80 yards in nine plays for the game’s final touchdown with Palermo completing five passes for first downs before finding Richardson from 3 yards out for a one-handed leaping catch in the back of the end zone.
Defensive back Eli Johnson then recovered the ensuing onside kick by Preister with three minutes, 12 seconds remaining, but a four-and-out possession ensued.
Live Oak outgained Holy Cross, 316-206, and had an 18-8 advantage in first downs thanks to a second half in which the Eagles rolled up 265 yards.
The Eagles defense generally smothered Holy Cross’ running game except for the 69- and 20-yard runs by Handy. The Tigers gained 5 yards on their other 23 runs.
“We’re down to one game,’’ Beard said referring to the sudden death nature of the playoffs in which Live Oak advanced to the state quarterfinals in 2017. “But it’s not over yet. We’ve got to get better. I’m excited because we played a full 48 minutes. That’s a huge step for us in the direction we’ve got to get going in the playoffs.’’
“We feel like we can play with anybody when we play our game and we execute,’’ Palermo said. “We’re just excited to get in the dance and see what we can do.’’
Holy Cross 25, Live Oak 14
Live Oak 0 0 0 14 - 14
Holy Cross 7 7 0 10 - 24
HC - Jalen Johnson 27 pass from John Dade Wooton (Nolan Heitmeier kick).
HC - Tyler Kirkwood 36 pass from John Dade Wooton (Nolan Heitmeier kick).
HC - Jaden Handy 69 run (Nolan Heitmeier kick).
LO - Grant Richardson 28 pass from Sal Palermo (Cole Crenshaw kick).
HC - Nolan Heitmeier 36 field goal.
LO - Richardson 3 pass from Palermo (Cole Crenshaw kick).
First downs 18 8
Rushing 49 94
Passing 267 112
Total offense 316 206
Passes 18-32-1 10-18-1
Penalties 6-65 3-35
Punts 6-32.0 7-28.0
Fumbles/lost 5-3 0-0