Tigers’ toughness, tenacity produce last-minute triumph

Mixon Bankston drops back to pass on the game-winning drive Friday night.

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

When Class 3A Abbeville finally took the lead Friday night over Class A St. Mary’s, with just 1:43 left to play, to all but a few in Turpin Stadium, the outcome seemed certain.

Those few were in St. Mary’s colors on the west sideline. They were not to be denied.

Down by four, but not for too long, the Tigers were near-perfect when it mattered most. That ability to rise to the occasion finished a 21-18 triumph for the home team.

Drake Griffin fielded a short kickoff and set up SMHS at its own 47. On the first snap, Mixon Bankston – not nearly the passer his predecessor as Tigers QB, Adam Parker, is – looked like Patrick Mahomes with a beautiful bomb, and Ben Bienvenu did his best Ja’Marr Chase impression, making a twisting over-the-shoulder catch while paced by two defenders, completing a 31-yard strike to the Wildcats’ 19.

Bankston scrambled, narrowly avoiding a sack near the Tiger sideline before finding Griffin with a short toss and a 7-yard gain halting the clock when Griffin went out-of-bounds. An inside run by Griffin got the first down at the 9, then Bankston raced left for 7 more yards, diving to the sideline at the 2 to stop play with 30 seconds left.

Given all the options, St. Mary’s boldly chose to overpower the bigger opponents. The Tigers lined up in a tight power formation, Bankston knifed over left guard, and sliced across the goalline with 25 seconds to go.

Add the reliable Payne Williams extra point, factor in Abbeville’s abject lack of any placekicker, and the upset was secure, just a matter of draining the last seconds away while containing the visitors.

“That’s a good team. Those are some men on that side,” said St. Mary’s coach Aaron York, “but we’ve got some men, too.”

Men with guts. The Tigers’ ability has long been apparent, and this year’s team has talent enough to kindle realistic ambitions of a state title run. Friday night revealed St. Mary’s has a little something special, a quality coaches crave.

“Their competitive nature … that’s why I told them (moments after the win) I didn’t want to talk about X’s and O’s, it was just fun to come out here and compete,” said York. “I feel like I’m 30 years younger competing with them out here.”

Bankston scored all three Tiger TDs, the first two on runs of 8 and 18 yards. He totaled 68 rushing yards on 13 attempts while Griffin gained 61 on 17 runs.

Bienvenu’s biggest obvious play was the clutch catch, but he was “all over the field,” said York, on defense and collected a team-best 14 tackles including a sack. Griffin was close behind with 10 stops.

Abbeville had a 340-202 yardage advantage, including 263 on the ground. The Wildcats thought they’d won it on an 8-yard sweep into the end zone, set up by a snakelike scramble that freed a receiver past midfield for a 46-yard completion, aggravated by a flag on the Tiger tackler pushing the ball down to the 8.

Both teams were heavily penalized: St. Mary’s 10 for 104, AHS 9 for 86.

“We’ve got to clean it up,” said York, referring to more than the flags as he thought ahead to next Thursday’s home game against another 3A foe, Buckeye, and other opponents to come. “This isn’t our end point right here. We want to continue to get better, but it’s a good start.

“What they did tonight – there were about eight who didn’t come off the field. That’s toughness.

“Our defense played great. Offense kept trying to find something that could keep their front off balance. But the kids just competed, and that’s what we want.”