The effort was good, it just fell a little short.
The Zachary Broncos (7-4) were able to hold off a late rally by the Leesville Wampus Cats (10-2), coming away with a 21-19 victory in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs Friday night.
"We gave it all we had and I'm proud of our guys," Leesville head coach Terence Williams said. "But Zachary did just enough to win. They made the plays when they needed them and we weren't able to do that."
After winning the opening toss and electing to receive, the Wampus Cats were able to pick up a couple of first downs. Leesville reached its own 47 for a first down on a 13-yard run by Ford and the Cats got into Bronco territory on the ensuing play.
Travante Stallworth gained four yards on third-and-1 a little later in the drive for another first down. However, the Cats stalled and Ford punted the ball away, pinning Zachary at its own 10.
The Broncos responded with a 12-play drive, knocking four minutes off the clock. Zachary, lining up in the double wing with a triple option twist, moved the ball down the field behind the running of quarterback Ben Hernandez and fullback Wendale Collins.
But it would be the arm of Hernandez to deal the scoring blow.
On third-and-8 from the Leesville 29, Hernandez fired a strike toward Kendrick Johnson in the middle of the field.
A Leesville defensive back was in position, but mistimed the jump and the ball landed safely in Johnson's arms for the touchdown. With 5:01 to go in the first period, Zachary owned a 7-0 lead after Curran Johnson's PAT was true.
The Cats garnered a couple of more first downs on their next drive, but again was forced to punt.
Zachary took over at its own 12, picked up a first down, but was forced to punt. Zach VonRosenburg, the reigning Class 4A Most Valuable Player in baseball who is committed to LSU, managed just a 22-yard punt, giving the Wampus Cats excellent field position at the Bronco 47.
Nine plays later, the Wampus Cats reached the endzone. Despite a pair of holding penalties inside the 10, Leesville got on the board when Ford scored on a 2-yard run on fourth-and-goal. However, Allen Perry's extra point attempt sailed wide, leaving Zachary with a 7-6 lead with 8:01 remaining in the first half.
Zachary managed to gain a first down on its next possession and take four minutes off the clock. However, another short punt, this one 21 yards, gave Leesville the ball at its own 48 with 3:55 to go in the half.
The Cats quickly marched the ball down the field on the legs of Ford and Stallworth, getting to the Bronco 2 for a first-and-goal situation with under a minute before intermission.
Ford was dropped for a 2-yard loss on first down, but Stallworth gained three on second down to get the Cats to the 1.
After a timeout, Ford was unable to break the plain, leaving the Cats with a fourth-and-goal with under 10 seconds to go.
Ford quickly lined up under center and called for the ball. He bulled his way toward the goal line as time expired in the half. However, he was ruled to be down just short of the goal line, leaving Zachary with a 1-point advantage entering the break.
"We thought Michael got in, but the refs said no," Williams said.
"When we stopped Ford right before the half on that goal line stand, that was the play of the game I thought," Zachary head coach Bob Howell said. "Our defense made the play when we needed it."
With the momentum squarely with Zachary heading into the break, Leesville needed to get something going its way early in the second half.
Zachary's opening possession of the second half was quick. After Collins gained a yard on first down, a bad pitch from Hernandez to Jamazz White resulted in a 16-yard loss.
Hernandez gained nothing on third-and-long and once again, VonRosenburg got off a terrible punt, allowing Leesville to take over at the Zachary 32.
After a quick first down, the Cats were on the Zachary 21 in position to score.
However, Stallworth lost four yards on first down and Ford fumbled the ball away on the ensuing play, giving Zachary the ball back.
The Broncos couldn't move the ball, but VonRosenburg delivered his best punt of the night, a booming 60-yarder that pinned Leesville at its own 2.
The Cats got a first down when Demetrius Mark reeled in an 11-yard pass to the 13. After a 2-yard gain by Stallworth, the turnover bug bit.
Stallworth fired a pass to a wide-open receiver, which went through their hands into the awaiting arms of Zachary defensive back Kendrick Hollins.
Zachary took over at the Leesville 19 and rode the legs of Collins for three plays, the final 13 for the touchdown. Curran Johnson's extra point was good and the Broncos were up, 14-6, with 3:10 to go in the third.
Leesville responded quickly, using just two plays to cover 67 yards for a touchdown.
Stallworth gained 26 yards on the first play of the drive and Ford carried it 41 yards to the house for the touchdown with 2:53 to go. However, a two-point conversion run failed, leaving the Cats down by two, 14-12.
Zachary responded with a drive of its own.
Taking over at their own 28, the Broncos faced a second-and-11 when Hernandez gained 12 yards and a first down. After a 12-yard gain from Collins, the Broncos had a first down near midfield.
Two plays later, Hernandez and Kendrick Johnson hooked up for a 45-yard gain to the Leesville 4.
As the clock ticked to 0:00, Collins scored on a 4-yard run. With the extra point, Zachary owned a 21-12 lead as the fourth quarter began.
Again, Leesville scored quickly. Covering 81 yards in four plays, the Cats got a 17-yard run from Stallworth to open the drive, followed up by a 4-yard run.
Ford gained five yards to the Leesville 45, leaving the Cats with a third-and-1, in which Ford took the handoff and broke free for a 55-yard touchdown scamper. Perry connected on the extra point, bringing Leesville back to within two, 21-19.
Zachary managed to take nearly six minutes off the clock on its next drive, but had to punt, giving Leesville the ball back at its own 28 with 4:43 to go in the game.
The Cats got into Bronco territory after a couple of first downs, including a 16-yard run by Ford to the Zachary 41.
However, a 7-yard loss by Stallworth was followed up by a motion penalty, leaving Leesville with second-and-22 on the Wampus Cat 47.
After Ford gained four yards on second down and a yard of third down, Leesville was faced with a fourth-and-17.
Opting to go to the air, Stallworth lofted a jump ball style of pass toward Jeron Hamm, who was single covered. Both Hamm and the defensive back went up for the ball, which was swatted away with 1:46 to go.
The Cats were unable to get the ball back as Zachary ran out the clock en route to the victory and a home date on Friday after Thanksgiving with top-ranked and three-time defending state champion Bastrop.
Ford finished the game with 38 carries for 299 yards and three touchdowns, leading Howell to say the senior LSU commitment was better than advertised.
"Ford looked absolutely great on tape," Howell said. "But he was even better in person. He had a tremendous game. He's a special player."
"Zachary never stopped him," Williams said of Ford. "You've got to keep feeding him the ball. The times we went away from him, it really didn't work and that's my fault."
Ford finished the season with 2,953 yards on 340 carries with 29 touchdowns. He also had two kickoff returns for touchdowns, along with 73 receiving yards, meaning he had around 3,200 all-purpose yards in 12 games.
Hernandez ran for 81 yards on 17 carries, while also completing 3-of-4 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown. Collins had 72 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Wampus Cats fall short
The effort was good, it just fell a little short.