BY MATT VINES, Journal Sports
NATCHITOCHES – Natchitoches Central won the time of possession battle and didn’t turn the ball over against Byrd on Friday, a recipe that usually has a positive forecast.
But Byrd’s stingy defense corralled the Chiefs, and the Yellow Jackets produced explosive plays on their way to a 34-3 win against NCHS in the regular-season finale.
NCHS (3-7, 2-5 District 1-5A) needed a win and help from around the state to qualify for the Division I Non-Select playoffs, entering Week 10 as the No. 38 squad.
But an NCHS failed fourth-down conversion on the first drive at the Byrd 30 set the stage for the Yellow Jackets (7-3, 4-3 District 1-5A) to score four first-half touchdowns to put the game out of reach.
“We couldn’t get out of our own way, and we didn’t make the plays,” said NCHS coach James Wilkerson. “We can’t do that against the teams in this district.”
Byrd marched 75 yards after the failed fourth-down attempt capped by a Malachi Johnson 8-yard run.
Backed up on the 3-yard line on the next drive, the Yellow Jackets traveled all 97 yards for a touchdown, the last 41 through the air on a pass from quarterback Lake Lambert to receiver Jackson Dufrene.
Lambert completed all three passes for 81 yards and a pair of touchdowns, both to Dufrene. Dufrene’s second score of 23 yards put Byrd up 27-0 just before halftime.
Dufrene’s second score followed a 4-yard touchdown run from Devon Strickland with 3:39 left in the first half, meaning the Yellow Jackets tacked on two late first-half touchdowns to build the 27-point edge.
After a lone Byrd third-quarter touchdown to push the gap to 34-0, Chiefs kicker Mateo Restrepo put the Chiefs on the board with a 42-yard field goal.
NCHS quarterback Brian Young was efficient Friday, completing 11-14 passes but for just 69 yards. The swarming Byrd defense didn’t allow for hardly any Chiefs explosion plays save a 37-yard pass to Ronald Smith.
Stud receiver Camryn Davis was held to 27 yards on seven catches.
Young and running back Jeremiah Miles are two of 24 seniors that the Chiefs honored Friday. The class suffered through an 0-8 pandemic season of 2020 before putting together an incredible turnaround in 2021 highlighted by a 6-0 start and a defeat of Byrd and a playoff appearance.
But Friday’s loss extinguished NCHS’ already slim hopes for a postseason return, another season marred by injuries to multiple top players.
Miles finished the season topping the 1,000-yard rushing mark, gaining 79 yards on 21 touches to end with 1,082 yards.
It was tough sledding as the offense gained 150 yards Friday.
NCHS senior Logan Saucier led the defense with six tackles.
Byrd 7 20 7 0 — 34
NCHS 0 0 0 3 — 3
B – Tyler Nichols 4-70 TD, Devon Strickland 13-68 TD, Malachi Johnson 5-43 TD, Desmond Simmons 7-41.
N – Jeremiah Miles 17-79, Zion Thompson 2-6, Nathaniel Holmes 2-10, Zion Thompson 2-6, Titus Williams 1-(-6).
B — Lake Lambert 3-3-0 81 2 TDs.
N – Brian Young 11-14, 69
B – Jackson Dufrene 3-81 2 TDs
N – Camryn Davis 7-27, Ronald Smith 2-40, Miles 1-3, Naiim Helaire 1-(-6).
CREDIT: Kevin Shannahan/NPJ Sports