Fumble return lifts Ascension Episcopal past Catholic-Pointe Coupee, 21-14
YOUNGSVILLE — Grant Miller may be just a freshman, but he knows what to do with the football and what direction to take it when he gets it in his hands.
The first-year Blue Gator had a defender’s dream become reality Friday night, picking up a fumble in the Catholic-Pointe Coupee backfield and returning it 28 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown. That ramble snapped a 14-all tie and gave Ascension Episcopal a comeback 21-14 win in the Gators’ home opener.
“When I saw the ball, I just thought scoop and score,” said Miller, who was part of a defense that held the Hornets’ strong wing-T attack scoreless in the second half. “We’ve practiced that many times, and it’s just instinct now.”
The Gators (2-0) had just tied the game on a 72-yard march that spanned the third and fourth quarters, with quarterback Jake Vascocu going the final yard for his second touchdown of the game with 10:25 left.
On second down after the kickoff, Catholic-Pointe Coupee quarterback Nathan Carriere’s option run was disrupted by a hit from Ascension defensive end Mike Rohrberger. The ball jarred loose, went behind Carriere and directly toward Miller, who grabbed it off the turf and went untouched into the Hornet end zone.
“At first I knew it was only 20 or 30 yards,” Miller said, “but when I started running, it felt like a mile, because I heard everyone in the crowd screaming. It was amazing.”
“He’s a freshman, but he’s an exceptional freshman,” said Gator defensive coordinator Scott McCullough. “We watched him play on the eighth grade team last year, and he’s just a tremendous hitter. You rarely see that. He’s one of those guys that’s got a natural instinct. He brings it, and hits people.”
The scoop-and-score was one of three fumbles forced by the Gator defense, and they needed every one of them to slow down a Pointe Coupee offense that went for 292 yards and was surprisingly balanced – 165 rush yards and 127 yards from Carriere throwing the ball. The Hornets (1-1) had rarely thrown in last week’s easy 46-14 win over Erath.
“Their coaches do a phenomenal job,” Ascension coach Matt Desormeaux said of Catholic-Pointe Coupee. “And they execute. We knew going in that it was going to be a battle, and we didn’t help ourselves out early. But our guys kept fighting and never gave up, and they were able to pull it off.
“We haven’t been down at halftime a lot the last couple of years.”
The returning state Division IV runners-up scored on their first possession when Vascocu led a 62-yard march and scored himself from one yard out midway through the first quarter. But Catholic powered back behind Carriere, who threw for 126 yards and rushed for 45 more.
Carriere led a methodical 65-yard march and Andrew Grezaffi’s four-yard run tied the game with 2:59 left in the first period. One play later, Vascocu was intercepted by Hornet cornerback Karson Moore, and the visitors marched 63 yards with Gared Beauvais going the final four yards for a 14-7 lead 8:41 before halftime.
Ascension then hurt itself with lost fumbles on its next two possessions and had to make a defensive stop at the halftime horn to keep the game within one score.
“They really had a great defensive game plan against us,” McCullough said. “They came down and hurt us the first couple of times and scored twice early. If somebody had told me we’d hold them to zero after that, I wouldn’t have been sure. Our players made some great on-field adjustments, got some good reads and picked things up from their alignments.”
The Hornets had a big 177-71 yardage advantage at halftime, but those numbers got closer in the second half when Ascension’s other numbers advantage – personnel – started showing. Catholic-Pointe Coupee had most of its starters playing on both offense and defense, while Ascension has only one two-way starter.
“That makes a huge difference when you’re playing Class A and AA,” McCullough said. “We put our best 22 out there instead of our best 11. We’ve worn down people. That’s been huge for us.”
The Gator defense forced three punts and got the go-ahead fumble return from Miller on Catholic’s first four second-half possessions. The Hornets mounted one final drive, going from their own 15 all the way to the Ascension 16 thanks mostly to a 39-yard strike from Carriere to Grezaffi and a 23-yard Grezaffi burst two plays later. But Carriere was unable to find a receiver on fourth-and-three from the Gator 16 with 51 seconds left.
“We were down and they never counted themselves out,” Desormeaux said. “They knew from the beginning they were going to come back and win this thing. You have to have that swagger, that confidence, and the attitude to keep fighting. It was ugly, but it was a win.”
Ascension Episcopal 21, Catholic-Pointe Coupee 14
AES – Jake Vascocu 1 run (Cole Simon kick)
CHPC – Andrew Grezaffi 4 run (Nathan Carriere kick)
CHPC – Gared Beauvais 4 run (Nathan Carriere kick)
AES – Vascocu 1 run (Simon kick)
AES – Grant Miller 28 fumble return (Simon kick)
RUSHING – CHPC: Andrew Grezaffi 7-58 1 TD, Nathan Carriere 18-45, Gared Beauvais 10-39 1 TD, Nick Carriere 8-23. AES: Jake Vascocu 11-131 2 TD, Leo Franques 15-42, Jhalen Brown 2-minus 3, team 3-minus 15.
PASSING – CHPC: Nathan Carriere 11-17-0, 127 yds. AES: Vascocu 10-17-1, 86 yds.
RECEIVING – CHPC: Grezaffi 3-53, Matthew Lagnlois 3-31, Nick Carriere 2-24, Aiden Vosburg 2-12, Micah Cifreo 1-7. AES: Seth Kerstetter 4-17, Jack Leoni 3-37, Willie Kerstetter 1-32, Brown 1-2, Franques 1-minus 2.
Records: AES 2-0, CHPC 1-1. Next: AES hosts North Vermilion Thursday, CHPC hosts St. John Friday.
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