High School Sports

D'Iberville rallies past St. Martin; Yellow Jackets end long playoff drought

D'Iberville running back Ja'quavis Foster (3) runs the ball against St. Martin during the first quarter, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at St. Martin High School in St. Martin, Miss.
D'Iberville running back Ja'quavis Foster (3) runs the ball against St. Martin during the first quarter, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at St. Martin High School in St. Martin, Miss. Special to the Sun Herald

D’Iberville and St. Martin are both headed to the Class 6A state playoffs.

The Warriors beat St. Martin 31-16 on Friday to earn the third seed in Region 4-6A. With Biloxi’s loss to Gulfport, St. Martin made the postseason for the first time since 2003.

The Warriors (5-6, 4-3)travel to Petal (7-4) next Friday night for a first round matchup. St. Martin (6-5, 3-4) travels to Pearl (12-0)

“It’s huge for the team and the community,” said St. Martin coach Eddie Whitehead. “This is not the way we wanted to go into the playoffs, but we are in the playoffs. We won the games we had to win to make the playoffs. I’m really proud for our players.”

D’Iberville center Louis Smith said everyone on the team was down on D’Iberville’s chances at some point in the season.

“We overcame a lot of adversity to win tonight,” he said. “Our coaches said during the week they could see the team coming together. Tonight, we came together. It’s a special feeling.”

D’Iberville’s defense shut St. Martin down in the second half, limiting the Yellow Jackets to just two first downs.

“What this team has gone through this season,” said Warriors coach Eric Collins, “the adversity that we have overcome, makes this special. They didn’t want the season to end tonight. These guys wanted to make the playoffs.”

“It means a lot,” said Warriors running back Ja’Quavis Foster. “We didn’t want to be the D’Iberville team that didn’t make the playoffs.”

The first half was nip and tuck between the Yellow Jackets and Warriors, with St. Martin using a safety off an intentional grounding call in the D’Iberville endzone to set up a 5 yard Jovann McGee run that gave the Yellow Jackets a 16-7 lead.

After the Warriors cut the lead back down to two, 16-14, St. Martin drove 79 yards in 3:29 before losing the ball on a fumble off the center-quarterback exchange at the Warriors 1.

Whitehead said not being able to score a touchdown before the end of the first half hurt St. Martin.

“We score, we go up 23-14 and have a two-score lead,” he said. “After the fumble, momentum swung towards them.”

“The fumble changed the game,” said Warriors linebacker Jacob Quave. “It gave us the confidence to come back and the momentum in the second half.”

Collins agreed. “It was the biggest play of the game. We knew we had the ball first in the second half. We felt like we were moving the ball in the first half. Once we had the lead, we became more aggressive.”

St. Martin’s offense, which accounted for 12 first downs in the first half, could only manage two first downs in the second half, the first on a 13 yard Elijah Washington run on the Yellow Jackets’ first play from scrimmage and the last, with 20 seconds left in the game, on Jake Galle’s 18-yard completion to Jamal Moody.

“(Defensive Coordinator) Jason Hockaday and the defensive staff made some subtle adjustments at the half,” Collins said of the Warriors’ second-half effort. “They had a great gameplan in the second half.”

With St. Martin unable to move the ball, D’Iberville went to work behind Ja’Quavis Foster, who had 154 yards on 23 carries, and Michael Kozlowski, who gained 123 yards on 20 carries. On their opening second-half drive, the Warriors pounded the ball downfield 80 yards on 13 plays, capping the drive with a 1 yard Foster run.

Later, after the Warriors forced a turnover on downs at the St. Martin 26, Jaden Walley found Layton Businelle in the endzone for a 25 yard scoring play to push the D’Iberville lead to 28-16.

“The coaches are always telling us that we are the team’s heart and soul,” Smith said. “They tell us when we block well, it doesn’t matter who is running the ball, the offensive line will move the football.”

D’Iberville opened the scoring with a 12-play, 67 yard drive capped by a 1 yard Foster run.

St. Martin, though, responded on the opening play of the second quarter as Jovann McGee ripped off a 23 yard run to tie the game. McGee, who finished with 100 yards for St. Martin, would be limited, however, in the second half with a turf toe problem.

The Yellow Jackets followed by taking a nine-point lead. A safety on an intentional grounding call was followed by a 43-yard pass play from Landon Pankonin to Washington, setting up a 5 yard McGee scoring run, giving the Yellow Jackets a 16-7 lead.

D’Iberville followed with a 13-play, 78 yard drive capped by a Kozlowski 3 yard touchdown run to cut the St. Martin advantage to two, 16-14, with 3:30 left in the first half.

Brady Groce gave D’Iberville their final points, connecting on a 26 yard field goal with 40 seconds left in the game.