Chiefs fend off tough Woodlawn squad in season-opening win

Dillon Braxton gets NCHS closer to the end zone Friday night in Shreveport. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal)

SHREVEPORT – Every time Woodlawn Leadership Academy threatened, Natchitoches Central had a response.

The Chiefs never trailed in Friday’s 39-28 road win, but all four Woodlawn touchdowns cut NCHS leads to two points or less.

NCHS (1-0) fended off the Knights (0-1) each time at Booker T. Washington’s Leonard C. Barnes Stadium.

“We played well defensively in the first half, but we struggled in the second half with mental mistakes and tackling,” said Jess Curtis, earning his first victory at NCHS after leading Many to three state championships. “Our offense turned it on in the second half, and we hit a couple of big pass plays to get us going.

“But we must get better quick. It was important to get this win on the road because it prepares us for more tough games coming up.”

The Chiefs built an early 10-0 lead, mostly thanks to a fumbled fourth-down punt snap that set up NCHS (1-0) on the 1-yard line.

Chiefs running back Zion Thompson plunged in for the score, his first of two rushing touchdowns. Kicker Mateo Restrepo added the first of two field goals for a 10-0 edge.

The NCHS defense dominated for large portions of the first half as the majority of Woodlawn’s possessions didn’t yield a first down.

But when the Knights connected, it was explosive. Quarterback Isaiah Kennedy found Jaylon Allen on an 85-yard touchdown strike to slice NCHS’s advantage to 10-8.

Kennedy accounted for three touchdowns, two through the air and one on the ground. He threw for 219 yards on 9-25 passing and was also Woodlawn’s leading rusher with 55 yards.

“You know what you’re up against when you face a Jess Curtis team because of the success he had at Many,” said Woodlawn coach Thedrick Harris. “I’m extremely proud of our kids. We came to play.

“We played well (defensively) versus the run, but we gave up a couple of crucial plays through the air. We’ve made great strides, and we’ll only get better.”

Chiefs’ quarterback Owen Smith, in just his second varsity start after transferring from Calvary Baptist, made his mark with 262 yards on 14-20 passing with two touchdowns.

Smith added a rushing touchdown, a 2-yard scamper that put NCHS up 16-8 in the second quarter.

But the Knights cashed in an NCHS fumble in the third quarter as Brandon Henderson scored on a 32-yard run, pulling WLA within 16-14.

Thompson, who led the Chiefs with 60 rushing yards, punched in his second score to put NCHS back up 23-14.

“Zion made some big runs and crucial catches early this season, and we believe he’ll be a 1,000-yard back for us,” Curtis said.

Another big Woodlawn play kept the Knights close as Kennedy galloped 51 yards for a touchdown, one of three scoring plays of at least 50 yards for Woodlawn. Woodlawn trailed just 23-22 late in the third quarter.

But Smith and stud receiver Camryn Davis got it going in the fourth quarter, connecting on two touchdown strikes to put the Knights away.

The first score was from three yards out while the second spanned 55 yards.

“We hit a couple of big pass plays to get us going in the second half,” Curtis said. “The Smith-to-Davis connection helped spark us.

“Smith played well for only his second varsity start.”

Davis caught 10 passes for 188 yards and those two touchdowns.

Between Davis’ touchdowns, Woodlawn found the end zone again when Kennedy hooked up with Joshua Dotson for a 57-yard strike to trail just 29-28 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs’ defense did stop Woodlawn on a fourth down to protect a 36-28 edge in the fourth quarter, effectively ending Woodlawn’s comeback bid.

NCHS opens the home schedule next Friday by bringing in Opelousas High, a formidable opponent, in Week 2.