ZACHARY -- Leading by just four points at halftime, Zachary coach David Brewerton challenged his team to shake off a recent string of sluggish second-half starts.
The Broncos scored four touchdowns after halftime in dominating fashion, while holding visiting Sulphur to just one score, to take a commanding 42-17 victory in the first round of the state playoffs Friday night - a perfect kickoff to their campaign in an effort defend last year's Class 5A state championship.
Playing in front of a smaller-than-expected home crowd on a cold night, Zachary lit up the stat sheet with 487 yards of total offense, with 289 of that output coming on the ground on 40 carries (7.2 per carry).
Zachary quarterback Keilon Brown was his normal self, accounting for 332 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, including three after halftime.
But it was the defense’s second-half response to Sulphur’s offense and quarterback Morgan Clark that turned this close game into a rout.
“The defense made a couple adjustments at halftime and did an outstanding job of shutting those guys down in the second half,” Brewerton said. “[Clark has] thrown for over 2,000 yards and was District MVP as a junior, so they certainly didn’t surprise us at all. But our defense stepped up.”
Zachary’s R.J. Allen scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run with 8:13 to go in the second quarter, which came two plays after Zachary tailback Kyle Landry was lost for the game with a lower leg injury. Landry would not return.
Sulphur answered back on the next drive, marching 71 yards down the field on seven plays before Dylan McFarlan’s 3-yard run evened the score 7-7.
A 39-yard kickoff return by Zachary’s Sean Burrell set up the Broncos at their own 44-yard line. Six plays later Brown crossed the endzone on an 8-yard scamper to put his team back in front 14-7 with 1:49 before halftime.
But the Golden Tors responded once again, with Clark connecting on passes of 26, 22 and 7 yards to set up Jacob Barrilleaux’s 20-yard field goal as the first-half clock expired to make it a 14-10 game.
Clark went 10-for-14 for 157 yards in the first half and connected on several passes downfield to talented receivers Gage Rapp and Branden Walker.
Then the second half came, and the Broncos defense got to work.
After yielding 191 yards in the first half, Zachary yielded only 95 in the second. After surrendering 12 first downs in the first two quarters, the Broncos only allowed six the rest of the game.
Clark connected on only five of his 14 second-half throws and was under constant pressure from Zachary’s defensive front, which also allowed only 85 yards on 27 carries (3.1 per rush).
“Our strength coach has done a tremendous job with our guys, and I think you saw that kind of take over in the second half,” Brewerton said. “We were really physical in the second half.”
While the defense refused to give an inch, the Broncos took whatever they wanted offensively in the second half with four touchdowns, including 44- and 55-yard touchdown passes from Brown to receivers Chandler Whitfield and Chris Hilton, respectively.
The other two scores came on 2-yard touchdown runs from Brown (to start the third quarter) and running back Darryl Givens (to close the fourth quarter).
“I’m proud of the guys for taking advantage when they could,” Brewerton said. “I think the touchdown to start the third quarter was big for us. We haven’t played a good offensive series in a few weeks coming out of halftime, and we did tonight. I think it set the tone for us the rest of the game.”
With the victory, Zachary will hit the road for a second-round matchup against Hahnville after the 22nd-ranked Tigers had a 35-9 upset win against No. 11 Walker.
Brewerton, whose team will be going for its third state title in four years, already knows what to expect.
“We’ll be walking into a hornets nest, no doubt about it, so it should be fun,” he said. “People are really proud with their program, and they’re gonna pack the stadium. It’ll be nice to playing front of a packed house.”
ZACHARY 42, SULPHUR 17
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Sulphur 0 10 0 7 -- 17
Zachary 0 14 14 14 -- 42
Zachary - R.J. Allen 1-yard run (Ethan O’Brien extra point)
Sulphur - Dylan McFarlan 3-yard run (Jacob Barrilleaux extra point)
Zachary - Keilon Brown 8-yard run (O’Brien extra kick)
Sulphur - Barrilleaux 2-yard field goal
Zachary - Brown 2-yard run (O’Brien extra kick)
Zachary - Brown 45-yard pass to Chandler Whitfield (O’Brien extra kick)
Zachary - Brown 55-yard pass to Chris Hilton (O’Brien extra kick)
Zachary - Darryl Givens 2-yard run (O’Brien extra kick)
Sulphur - Sean Ceasar 8-yard run (Barrilleaux extra point)
18 First downs 18
286 Total yards 487
27-85 Rushes-yards 40-289
201 Passing yards 198
15-28-1 Passes 7-12-0
2-1 Fumbles-lost 2-1
2-30.5 Punts-average 0-0
2-16 Penalties-yards 7-90