The Swamp clearly deserved its name Friday night with plenty of mud and gators to go along with periods of pouring rain and a slippery ball that was fumbled nine times, three of which were recovered for turnovers.
For a while it appeared the game was slipping away as well from heavily favored Ponchatoula, which found itself behind 14-13 to the St. Amant Gators.
With just six and half minutes remaining, the homestanding Green Wave showed why they deserved their No. 4 seed in the state playoffs by breaking out to a 24-14 victory over St. Amant.
The win earned Ponchatoula a berth in the second round and another home game this coming weekend against No. 13 Ruston, a 42-17 first round winner over Hahnville.
The game turned in favor of Ponchatoula late in the fourth quarter. After yet another fumble at the St. Amant 4-yard-line stalled a Green Wave drive, the Ponchatoula defense held firm and forced a punt.
An exciting 27-yard punt return by Clyde Gaten set up the Greenies on the St. Amant 17, and one play later quarterback Jacoby Mathews ran it in. Mathews followed that up by running for a 2-point conversion to put Ponchatoula up 21-14.
By then the rain had let up, and St. Amant looked forward to getting the ball back. Earlier in the game St. Amant had built its lead largely on the passing, running and kicking of star quarterback Cole Poirrier. The Gator junior had thrown two TD passes, kicked the points after touchdown in the third period and led two other drives to inside the Ponchatoula 10-yard-line but came away with no points.
But Ponchatoula wouldn’t let Poirrier get his chance for a comeback.
On the ensuing kickoff Gaten again asserted himself, recovering a fumble at the St. Amant 25 yard line. Runs by Mathews and Braydon Johnson moved the ball to the 9, and with 2:54 left senior Jake Leitz kicked a 30-yard field goal to increase the lead to 10.
This time after the kickoff St. Amant held on to the ball, but Poirrier was sacked twice by Jordan Winder and Jaquan Livers, and on his final play he was intercepted by Brant Monistere.
In the first half St. Amant started strong. Despite the rain and the mud, on the first drive of the game Poirrer mixed running plays and passes well, driving St. Amant 64 yards on 17 plays, eating up more than 8 minutes.
The Ponchatoula defense was knocked off balance, but finally stopped Poirrer on a fourth down and 3 at the 9 yard line.
The Green Wave offense then took the field and promptly marched 91 yards, all on the ground. Short runs by Mathews and Johnson moved the ball past midfield, and then Damontrell Osby covered the final 43 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 lead, which held up by halftime.
St. Amant tied the score midway through the third period, but minutes later Ponchatoula went ahead again when Elijah Winters intercepted a pass and returned it to the St. Amant 21, and on the next play Mathews ran for another touchdown.
A missed point after touchdown kick led to a 13-7 lead, which was erased by Poirrier’s second touchdown pass to Justin Storks before the Green Wave’s fourth quarter heroics.
The victory was Ponchatoula’s seventh straight.
If the Green Wave wins again in the second round, the road to the Dome gets tougher, with a quarterfinal matchup against the winner of this coming weekend’s No. 12 Dutchtown vs. No. 5 Destrehan game. On Friday Dutchtown beat Terrebonne 29-0, and Destrehan defeated Quachita Parish 35-14.