Fourth-down plays loom large
In a way, Friday’s District 1-5A showdown between the Airline Vikings and Parkway Panthers came down to fourth downs.
After Parkway scored on its first possession, Airline’s Hayden Hildebrand hit Laterious Pouncy on fourth-and-7 from the Parkway 16 to tie the game.
Parkway then failed on to convert on three fourth downs and the game turned in Airline’s favor for good in the second quarter.
The Vikings went on to hand Parkway its first loss of the season 31-13 before a large crowd at Airline Stadium.
Airline (7-1, 3-0 1-5A) which hasn’t won a district championship since 1998, can clinch a share of the title with a victory over Southwood Thursday night at Lee Hedges Stadium.
“It’s just a great feeling,” said Hildebrand, who completed 21 of 34 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. “I’m on top of the world right now. Can’t let that last long, though, because we have a whole season to go. But like coach (Bo) Meeks was saying, a lot of people were saying we can’t win big games based on what we did against Neville, but you know what, we came out here and proved the doubters wrong and got a good win.”
Airline’s lone loss was to defending Class 4A state champion Neville 48-14 in Week 5.
Parkway (7-1, 2-1) is by no means out of the title picture, but the Panthers’ chances for an outright title are slim.
Parkway’s first fourth-down attempt failed when Demontre Evans sacked Brandon Harris at the Airline 28, ending a scoring opportunity
The second was much bigger. Airline took a 14-7 lead on Hildebrand’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Trey Turner early in the second quarter.
After mishandling the kickoff, Parkway was backed up at its 8-yard line. But Harris quickly led the Panthers down the field to a first-and-goal.
On fourth down near the goalline, he threw incomplete.
Later in the quarter, the Panthers went for it on fourth down from their 40. The immediate result was an incomplete pass.
The ultimate result was an 11-yard pass from Hildebrand to Logan Williams that gave Airline a 21-7 lead.
Then Airline’s Kevin James returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown to put the Vikings up 28-7 with 2:19 left in the first half.
Parkway had a flicker of hope in the second half when the Panthers intercepted a pass on Airline’s opening drive.
But they fumbled it right back.
Besides the fourth downs and Hildebrand’s play, the story of the game was the Airline defense.
The Panthers came out of the chute fast against the Vikings. Harris connected with Holden Orgeron for 73 yards to set up a 3-yard Marcus Harper touchdown run. But that was it until a fourth-quarter touchdown when the game was no longer in doubt.
Parkway averaged 45 points per game in its first seven games. The Panthers gained 348 total yards, but the Vikings defense made the plays when it had to — especially on fourth downs.
“We were able to stop them on some key fourth downs,” Meeks said. “Harris is a great player. We were able to get some pressure and keep him contained.”
And they did it with linebacker Rodriguez Parker, the team’s leading tackler, on the bench for most of the game with a leg injury.
Ladariun Stinnett and Deveal Granville both subbed for Rodriguez.
Meeks thought the play of the defensive line, including standout OJ Smith, was key.
“Our defensive line was unbelievable,” he said.
Evans, a defensive end, and Jaterious Pouncy, who covered Parkway’s leading receiver, Brodrick Jefferson, also received praise.