Johnson scores late TD for Port Allen playoff win
A look of relief etched the face of Guy Blanchard late Saturday night.
A deviation from the normal Friday schedule and playoff opponents the Pelicans faced earlier in the season concerned the PAHS head football coach.
Neither of Blanchard’s pre-game concerns came to fruition. A Caleb Johnson 10-yard touchdown run in the last 29 seconds snapped a tie to give the Pelicans a 22-14 victory over McMain at City Park’s Pan American Stadium.
“It’s exactly what I expected,” he said. “Both teams wanted to win, two teams with very contrasting styles, but both teams were very physical and fought for four quarters.”
Johnson ran the ball in from the right just as overtime loomed in the contest.
“I saw it coming, so I jumped up right in front of their tackles,” he said. “I saw the time on the clock, and the last thing we wanted was overtime.
“We were at their home, and you never know what could happen when you let them go to overtime in front of their home crowd,” Johnson said.
Senior running back Jestin Kelly ran for two Pelican touchdowns — one that tied the game in the second quarter and another that gave PAHS the lead in the third.
Kelly also intercepted an Omari Jones pass deep in Pelican territory to squash a McMain scoring opportunity.
“We’re just ready to go up against Livonia, play our hearts out and get another playoff win,” he said. “We knew we’d deal with a lot of adversity in this game, but we had to keep our composure if we wanted to win.”
The composure paid off for the Pelicans, who endured a bumpy road on the way to victory.
Port Allen committed three turnovers – two off a Darian Claiborne interception passes and another off a fumble on the first play from scrimmage.
The Pelican snafu opened the gate for Jones to connect with Khali Smith for a 15-yard scoring pass. The Mustangs came up short on the conversion pass.
Port Allen followed with an eight-play, 49-yard scoring drive that ended with a Kelly 4-yard TD run. PAHS came up short on the conversion pass, which left the game tied 6-6 at halftime.
Penalties squashed three potential scoring drives for the Pels, including one deep in Mustang territory off calls of holding and illegal procedure late in the third quarter.
“It’s not conducive to winning football games … we would’ve had a two-touchdown lead without that,” Blanchard said. ‘”But I’m still happy. We won and we get to play another game.”
Alvin Hill intercepted a Claiborne pass in the end zone on the next pass to squash the Pelican drive.
Port Allen stifled the Mustangs two plays later when Kelly stripped the ball from Jones and ran 7 yards for the TD. The Pels faked the point-after kick and put the ball in Kelly’s hands for a conversion run that put PAHS ahead 14-6.
The Mustangs responded with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that led to a Jones TD off a 1-yard sneak.
Turnovers told the story of the fourth quarter. A second Claiborne pass found its way into the hands of the Mustangs in the end zone to squash a tie-breaker earlier in the stanza.
Kyle Moore then spoiled a McMain drive at the Mustang 30, which paved the way for a productive run downfield that led to Johnson’s game-winning TD.
The Pelicans knew the trip to New Orleans would not be a giveaway, Claiborne said.
“We beat them two years in a row at our place, but we knew by coming here it would be a battle,” he said. “Coach told us just to fight to the very end, keep our heads up and something positive would come out of it.”
Port Allen needed time to adjust to playing on artificial turf – a first for the Pels since last year’s quarterfinal game at Parkview Baptist, said Claiborne, a Texas A&M commitment.
“It was a little harder, but other than that I liked it,” he said. “I’ll be playing on this type of turf a lot more in another year.”
It marked the second consecutive year the Pelicans won the first-round playoff game, and fifth straight year PAHS entered post-season action.
The Port Allen win set the stage for a 3A regional showdown Friday at home against No. 5 seed Livonia.