VANCLEAVE Vancleave scored twice in the final quarter Friday to upset Pass Christian 23-14, keeping their hopes alive for a 4A state playoff berth.
“The last two weeks, we’ve shown up on both sides of the ball,” said Bulldogs coach Lavon Capers. “We’ve endured some tough times this year. It’s good to come out and show how the hard work we’ve been doing pays off.”
After Friday, only two things are certain: East Central (9-0, 4-0) will win the Region 8-4A title and Bay (0-9, 0-3) is the only team eliminated from the playoffs with one game remaining.
For Vancleave (3-6, 2-2), the road to the playoffs is clear: beat East Central next week in the Pascagoula River Bowl and the Bulldogs are in. If the Hornets win next week, then the Bulldogs need Bay to beat Moss Point (2-8, 1-3), which holds the tie breaker over Vancleave, but would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Bay.
If Moss Point beats Bay and Vancleave loses to East Central, the Bulldogs will need St. Stanislaus to beat Pass Christian and create a three-way tie for the third and fourth playoff slots and get help on the tie breakers.
“Any time you come to the last game of the season and have a chance to get into the playoffs, you’ve had a somewhat successful season,” Capers said. “We have a tough path next week, but we have to come out and play our brand of football.”
For Pass Christian (4-5, 2-2), the path to the playoffs are clear. If the Pirates beat the Rockachaws (5-4, 3-1), they are in. If the Pirates win and East Central beats Vancleave, they would finish second. If they win, but Vancleave beats the Hornets, there would be a three-way tie between Pass Christian, St. Stanislaus, and Vancleave for second, which would be determined by tie breakers.
Pass Christian, which holds the tie breaker due over Moss Point due to their win over the Tigers, also goes to the playoffs if Bay beats Moss Point. The possible nightmare scenario for the Pirates is if they lose to the Rockachaws, East Central beats Vancleave, and Moss Point beats Bay. This would set up a three-way tie for third and fourth and Pass Christian could be the team left out based on tie breakers.
Pass Christian coach Casey Wittmann did not want to think about the tie breaking situation, noting that two years ago tie breakers kept the Pirates out of the playoffs.
“We can’t worry about that,” he said. “Right now, we just need to play St. Stanislaus next week.”
Down 14-10 with just under 10 minutes left to play, the Bulldogs went to work. Lane Wise and Chase Aubry each had 19 yard runs as Vancleave quickly moved the ball from their 20 to inside the Pass Christian 30. A 13-yard Wise run and a Pirates personal foul penalty moved the ball the Pass Christian 6. Two plays later, Wise went in from the 4. Although the Bulldogs would miss the two-point try, Vancleave would open a slim 16-14 lead and not trail for the rest of the game.
After both teams exchanged punts, Vancleave took advantage of a late mistake by Pass Christian to seal the win. Cody Bean came up with a Pirate fumble at the Pass Christian 26. Three plays later, Tristan Glass found Xavier Bass wide open for a 26-yard touchdown pass that sealed the win, giving Vancleave a 23-14 lead.
“It was a ground it out game,” Capers said as his team had four runners with nine or more carries and gained 279 yards on the ground. Of the 62 carries for the Bulldogs, only 10 went for more than 10 yards, with a long run of 19 yards.
“We like to run the football and other teams know we like to run the football,” Capers said. “Our backs are solid, run the ball hard, and block for each other.”
“They had a good game plan for us and they executed their plan,” Wittmann said. “We didn’t get three-and-outs early like we needed to. We had chances against them early. Our receivers would be open, but they would drop the ball or the pass would miss. We had a lot of balls that should have been caught.”
After going into the half behind 7-3, Vancleave came out in the second half and established their running game behind wingbacks Wise and Aubry.
The Bulldogs opened the second half with a 14-play, 64 yard drive that took just over six minutes off the clock. The drive was capped a 3 yard Aubry run, giving Vancleave a 10-7 lead.
Pass Christian came back with a 16-play, 64 yard drive of their own, with Tionne Frost going in from 19 yards out as the Pirates reclaimed the lead 14-10 with 9:50 to play.
Wise led Vancleave with 109 yards on 24 carries. Aubry added 81 yards on 15 carries and Glass finished with 58 yards on 13 carries. He was also 3-of-5 passing for 36 yards and the score to Bass, who gained 13 yards rushing off a fake punt. Bass and Bean had seven tackles each to lead the Bulldogs defense.
Dustin Allison threw for 105 yards, including a 26 yard pass to Andrew Moffett just before the half, and ran for 36 yards. Frost finished with 107 yards on 20 carries and caught a pass late for 20 yards. On defense, Terre Johnson had 14 stops and Tyson Scott 12. Justin Kidd led the defensive line with eight stops.