By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Natchitoches Parish Journal
It took almost a full quarter to get the engines tuned up, but St. Mary’s responded in a most paramount way in front of a homecoming crowd at Turpin Stadium Friday night.
Fueled by gigantic defensive plays by Ben Bienvenu, Drake Griffin and Chance Rushing, the Tigers revved up the slow-starting offensive motor enroute to a 42-0 drubbing of rival LaSalle to open district play.
“I thought our kids really flew around the ball defensively,” SMS head coach Aaron York said immediately following the contest. “I thought our defense played extremely physical and that was one of the keys to getting this win. I challenged our defense to get the shutout.”
The St. Mary’s defense held LaSalle to just 127 yards of total offense on the night. Linebackers Bienvenu and Griffin had 10 and nine tackles respectively on the night while Rushing constantly disrupted the LaSalle offensive attack in the backfield.
“It’s all about experience,” Bienvenu said. “All of our guys have been doing this together for a while and we were just in the right place at the right time. It is all about hard work and preparation.”
Rushing added, “It was just time to go. We just beat them to the edge and hit them as hard as we could.”
The homestanding Tigers found the end zone for the first time with just 51 seconds left in the first frame as senior Drake Griffin bolted up the middle for a 7-yard TD run. A rare PAT miss put SMS in the lead 6-0.
But the momentum didn’t seem to fully shift in the Tigers favor until the very next LaSalle possession as Bienvenu broke through the line and pancake tackled senior running back Tanner Gagne for a 3-yard loss. From there, the offensive pendulum started to swing in favor of the Tigers as multiple SMS defenders, led by Bienvenu and Rushing, seemingly camped out in the visitors’ offensive backfield for the remainder of the contest.
After LaSalle punted the ball away on their next possession, Griffin followed another huge block provided by lineman Caleb White as he sprinted 38 yards up the middle for the next Tiger score to move SMS up 14-0, after a two-point conversion, early in the second quarter.
With a little razzle dazzle reminiscent of plays drawn in the dirt on the playground, senior QB Mixon Bankston scrambled from sideline to sideline before pitching the ball to senior receiver Ethan Busby who scrambled 27 yards for the next Tiger score. After Payne Williams added the usual PAT, St. Mary’s grabbed the 21-0 lead and the rout official begun.
Additional scores by Bankston (47-yard run) and Busby (1-yard sweep) moved the lead to 35-0 before the homecoming court was presented at the break. Bienvenu added a 3-yard run to complete the scoring before the second team took over and the clock ran non-stop for the remainder of the game.
“I think with the two weeks off we got a lot better,” York added. “There are still some things we need to clean up like penalties but I believe, after a brutal first four weeks of the season, we were prepared to start district like this with a big win.”
Bankston was 7 of 12 through the air for 157 yards while Bienvenu hauled in three catches for 91 yards and Payne Williams grabbed three for 53 yards. Griffin led all rushers on the night with 93 yards on seven carries, two of which hit paydirt.
With the victory, the No. 2 rated (Division IV Select power rankings) Tigers elevate to 5-0 overall but most importantly jump to 1-0 in District 3-1A play.
St. Mary’s will take a short break from conference action as they travel to face Class 4A opponent Peabody in Alexandria.