NCHS loses another heartbreaker, falls in final seconds to Haughton 

A Natchitoches Central receiver protects his body as he catches a pass over the middle Friday in a last-second 36-35 loss to Haughton. (Journal photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN)

By MATT VINES, Journal Sports

Eight seconds. 

A Natchitoches Central squad desperately looking for a signature win led Haughton for all but eight seconds of Friday’s final home game of the season. 

But Haughton picked the right eight seconds to gain its first lead as quarterback Christian Turner connected with Jalen Lewis for a 10-yard touchdown before finding Jamarion Montgomery on the two-point pass. 

The Bucs pulled out a 36-35 thriller, handing the Chiefs (2-7, 1-5 District 1-5A) their fourth straight one-score loss in district play. 

For the second straight week, Natchitoches Central built an early lead and mustered a late score to regain that lead – only to lose in the closing seconds.

“This team has come a long way,” said NCHS coach Jess Curtis. “They have played their tails off.  

“We just have to make the plays in crucial moments of the game. I’m proud of us, and these lessons will go a long way into making us better.” 

Parkway walked off the Chiefs this past week with a game-winning field goal as time expired. Rallies fell short against Benton and Captain Shreve. 

NCHS appeared ready to celebrate when a fourth-down pass fell incomplete, but pass interference kept Haughton’s final drive alive. It was the second fourth-down conversion after Turner hooked up with Lewis for a 44-yard catch. Turner rushed for 181 yards and threw for another 168 with four total touchdowns. Lewis finished with 140 receiving yards and two scores on six catches. 

“Honestly I was just thinking about how proud I was of the heart that our kids showed in the game,” said Haughton coach Jason Brotherton as his Bucs embarked on the game-winning drive. “Coming into this game, I wasn’t sure how much fight our kids would have left. 

“And then we got down two scores early. But they fought their tails off for that ‘H’ on the side of their helmet. I was really proud of that.” 

On Friday, NCHS pushed past the disappointment of squandering its early lead by piecing together an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes. 

The Chiefs ate up yardage and clock with its ground game before quarterback Owen Smith hit Dillon Braxton for a 33-yard touchdown with 1:53 remaining, restoring NCHS’ lead at 35-28. 

NCHS turned to its ground game of Zion Thompson and a veteran offensive line after Louisiana’s leading receiver Cam Davis didn’t play because of an injury suffered this past week. 

Thompson rushed for 193 yards and two scores as NCHS rolled up 236 yards on the ground. 

“We have gotten so much better at running the football, and that’s made us a balanced offense,” said NCHS coach Jess Curtis. “This team has come a long way, and they have played their tails off. 

“We just have to make the plays in the crucial moments of the game.” 

But after the Chiefs blew up a fourth-down trick play that set up NCHS at the Haughton 12-yard line with a seven-point lead, Bucs’ defender Montgomery stripped Thompson on the next play with just seven minutes remaining. 

Haughton capitalized as Turner struck for a 76-yard touchdown run to tie the game with five minutes left. Turner rushed for 181 yards and threw for another 168 with four total touchdowns. 

The Bucs’ defense made another crucial play early in the second half when Austin Walton returned a Smith interception for a touchdown, slicing the Chiefs’ edge to 21-20 after a blocked extra point. 

“The pick-six and the fumble late in the fourth quarter were two plays that hurt,” Curtis said. “Other than that, the offense was exceptional. 

“We just can’t have turnovers in tight games. We are playing good football right now, but we just have to finish. We aren’t playing horseshoes.” 

Thompson and the Chiefs’ offensive line led by Joe Cryer reasserted themselves, marching 80 yards all on the ground capped by a 3-yard Thompson plunge to construct a 28-20 lead late in the third quarter. 

Thompson rushed for 193 yards and two scores as NCHS rolled up 236 yards on the ground. 

The Chiefs, who have primarily relied on the air attack this season, sent a message early with Thompson’s 61-yard run that set up his 3-yard dive on the first NCHS drive of the game. 

After Chiefs’ defender Braden Woods forced a Turner fumble, NCHS cashed in with a Smith 45-yard pass to AJ Scott. Smith finished with 212 passing yards on 13-of-18 with three touchdowns. Scott added 81 yards on five catches while Dillon Braxton logged a team-high 113 yards on six catches. 

Turner bounced back with a 60-yard touchdown run to cut NCHS’ edge in half, but the Chiefs regained control with another score. 

Helaire found paydirt from 22 yards on a jet sweep to widen the gap to 21-8. 

“We got off to another fast start,” Curtis said. “We had several guys step up to help us with the loss of Cam Davis. 

“Scott and Braxton had big catches while Zion had a huge day in the running game.” 

The Chiefs remained in control for the rest of the half until Lewis raced 64 yards to the endzone on a long pass play. Two NCHS defenders collided just as Lewis caught the ball on the crossing route, clearing his path with just 49 second left. 

Haughton reeled NCHS back in 21-14 before the half and closed to 21-20 with the pick-six in the third quarter. 

The Bucs will try to spoil Captain Shreve’s perfect district season next week while the Chiefs close out with a trip to Byrd.