Tigers knock off second straight Class 3A foe, bruising Buckeye

St. Mary’s senior receiver Ethan Busby (11) beats a Buckeye defender to the sideline during the first half Thursday night. (Photo by BRET H. MCCORMICK, Rapides Parish Journal)

By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Journal Sports

This week’s goal for St. Mary’s was to remain undefeated after Week 2. The Tigers did just that as SMS dispatched their second Class 3A opponent in as many weeks on Thursday night, sending the visiting Buckeye Panthers back to Rapides Parish with a memorable 44-12 drubbing on the gridiron.

Next week’s goal for the Tigers? Just call the team the clean-up crew for Week 3 of the regular season campaign.

“If we can clean up things, we’ve got a pretty special group and that means we can have a pretty special season,” St. Mary’s head coach Aaron York commented immediately following the action last night. “That has to be our goal. We have got to clean up the mistakes and hopefully get as many reps for as many players as we can get in that process. We did get a lot more depth in tonight and a lot of people played which is a big plus for us.”

SMS stalled on its first possession and failed to gain a first down. The Tigers rebounded after Mixon Bankston intercepted a Buckeye pass (his third pickoff this season) on the Panthers’ first offensive possession. St. Mary’s put together a typical Tiger drive, selectively mixing the rushing plays with the aerial attack as Ben Bienvenu powered up the middle to the end zone and a 7-0 advantage midway through the opening session.

Buckeye immediately answered with a long draw play going the distance to close the gap to 7-6 after a blocked PAT. On the ensuing kickoff, Drake Griffin fielded a wobbly kickoff at the 36 and bolted up the field for an immediate score.

The Tigers then methodically collected two additional TDs, going to the locker room up 28-6 at the break.

When Buckeye came out for the second half, the Panthers made quick work of moving the ball. Just when the tide seemed to be turning, SMS defensive back Payne Williams intercepted a Panther pass in the end zone to kill that momentum.

What ensued was both the Tigers’ upperclassmen along with the underclassmen mounting impressive plays both offensively and defensively to move to the victory. The upperclassmen’s effort was highlighted on one play after Bankston, at quarterback, left the game briefly with an injury. Freshman QB Preston Tilley then connected with Payne Williams on a 43-yard catch and run play for a TD.

“A win is a win, there’s no doubt about that,” York said. “Offensively, we played well but we have to clean up things like penalties, formations, route combinations and things like that. Defensively, Buckeye came out in a no-huddle offense and we have to recognize what our lineups should be and focus on our assignments. On special teams, we missed some blocking assignments and we will work to clean that up.

“Overall, our goal was to be 2-0 after tonight and we did that. We also came out of this game relatively healthy and that’s a plus for us too. Our goal now is preparation and planning leading up to Friday night,” said York.

The Tigers committed 14 penalties for 130 yards but recovered all three of Buckeye’s fumbles. The Tigers recorded 368 yards of total offense to 375 for the Panthers.

Bankston was 10 of 20 passing for 193 yards and two TDs while Griffin led all rushers with 43 yards on the ground. Griffin also had a career night defensively with 18 total tackles while Braylin Norman added nine.

Gracious in defeat, Buckeye boss man Ben McLaughlin expressed respect for the Tigers and praise for his team. McLaughlin, considered to be on the great offensive generals on the high school field in central Louisiana, said, “We didn’t cross the 50-yard line but just one time last season against this team. We moved the ball tonight. We were not able to convert a lot of those drives into points but we moved the ball according to plan.”

McLaughlin, a former assistant at Alexandria Senior High and Louisiana Christian College, concluded, “There are no moral victories in football. But our kids are believing in what we are doing. I am not taking anything away from them (St. Mary’s) because they made the plays. But when we put on the tape, what we call the silent film, that is without seeing the scoreboard and hearing the fans, I know we are going to be very proud of the way our kids played.”