Late game heroics lift Zachary to 27-24 victory over West Monroe, back-to-back Class 5A championships

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NEW ORLEANS – Trailing 24-20 and shutout for the first 22 minutes of the second half, the Zachary Broncos unleashed the biggest play of the season inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With Zachary facing third down and 10 from their own 20-yard line, junior quarterback Keilon Brown hit Sophomore Chris Hilton on a wide receiver screen, who got a key block and raced 80 yards for the improbable game-winning touchdown to give Zachary the 27-24 lead with 1:51 to play in the ball game, securing back-to-back LHSAA Class 5A State Championships.

“When our offensive coordinator called it, I looked down at the script and said holy smokes they’re running a screen on third and ten,” said Zachary head coach David Brewerton about the game-winning play. “And then I’m screaming ‘Go, Run!’”

Competing against one of the hottest defenses in the state, Zachary (13-2) compiled 391 yards of offense.  Dual threat quarterback Keilon Brown earned Offensive MVP for the Zachary Broncos for the second consecutive year.  Though bottled up and contained by the fierce West Monroe defense on occasion, Brown still compiled 94 yards rushing on 22 carries with a score and threw for 257 more yards and three touchdowns.

“Well, I’m heartbroken.  Our kids are heartbroken,” said West Monroe Head Coach Jerry Arledge about his team’s devastating loss at the end of the game. “But that’s the motivating factor, the fear of losing.  I think that’s what drives us all.  I know it certainly motivates me.”

For West Monroe (14-1), the rushing attack helped wear down the Zachary front line in the second half, leading the Rebels to 14 unanswered points for the lead and a chance to win their first state championship since 2012.  The Rebels collected 204 yards on the ground on 41 carries and all three of their touchdowns.

However, the Rebels struggles in the passing game derailed their attempt to balance the offensive scheme and ultimately a chance for a game ending drive to try to tie or win the game.  Junior quarterback Garrett Kahmann finished just 6-of-12 for 102 yards and was sacked six times.

Well aware of the West Monroe shutout streak, Zachary need only 3:59 to bring that to an abrupt halt. Brown led the Broncos on a game-opening 9 play, 71 yard drive, capped off with a 46 yard touchdown pass to Chandler Whitfield.  After the extra point attempt careened off the goalpost, the Broncos led 6-0 with 8:01 to play in the first quarter.

West Monroe wasted no time answering the Zachary score.  The Rebels marched 43 yards in 5 plays, thanks in part to a 44 yard pass from Kahmann to Michael Hamburg on first down, putting the Rebels deep in Zachary territory.  Three plays later the Kahmann just overthrew a wide open Rylan Green for a touchdown and the Rebels would settle for 39-yard Reece Aultman Field Goal to bring the score to 6-3 with 6:06 to play in the first quarter.

Zachary immediately responded on the ensuing possession. Taking over at the 35 yard line, Brown connected with Whitfield for a 38-yard pass to the West Monroe 16-yard line.  One play later, Brown scurried into the end zone on a 16-yard keeper, extending the lead to 14-3 with 4:26 to play in the quarter.

The Rebels continued the back and forth scoring on their next drive.  Setup at the Zachary 28-yard line following a 52-yard kickoff return by Hamburg, Junior Quarterback Carson Jones scored just two plays later on a 20-yard run, cutting the Zachary lead to 13-10 with 4:02 to play in the quarter.

Following the teams trading possessions at the end of the first quarter, the Broncos put the offense back into high gear.  Starting on their own 25-yard line, the Broncos raced down field in only seven plays, capped off by an amazing catch by Chris Hilton over the back of the defender for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Broncos a 20-10 lead with 10:35 to play in the half.

Facing a defense that shutout their first four opponents of the playoffs, the Zachary Broncos appeared to be on their way to carving up the Rebels in similar fashion to the way they did Destrehan a week earlier.  The Broncos amassed 204 yards and appeared to be unstoppable.

“[It] was probably as much mental as anything,” said Arledge about the adjustment the Rebels made following the explosive Zachary start to the game. “Made a couple of adjustments just trying to get a little bit more pressure and we were able to do that some of the time. They came out sky high early and we didn’t respond very well that first half.”

And adjust they did, as the Rebels held the Broncos to only 108 yards the rest of the way, until the Broncos final offensive possession of the game.

Trailing 20-10 and receiving the ball to the start the second half, West Monroe knew the needed a spark to jumpstart the offense.  The Rebels got just that on the opening possession of the second half.  The Rebels marched 61 yards in 5 plays, punching it in on a 34 yard breakaway run by Senior Michael Hamburg to cut the Zachary lead to 20-17 with 9:41 to play in the third quarter.

With the defense holding the highly potent Zachary offense to an unimaginable total of just 19 yards offense in the third quarter, the West Monroe offense finally cashed in on the opportunity.  The Rebels broke off several big runs, setting up a 1-yard quarterback keeper by Garrett Kahmann to give West Monroe their first lead of the game, 24-20 with 9:26 to play in the ball game, setting the stage for the improbable Zachary fireworks at the end of the game.

“When I took this job five years ago, I went home that night and lay in bed and thought about the future of Zachary and who was the standard for 5A football, and without question it was West Monroe,” said Brewerton about the success of winning three state championships in the past four seasons.

Suffice to say that any coaches taking over 5A programs in the near future will ask what the standard for 5A football is and the answer to that question will be crystal clear.  Zachary.

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