Zachary rallies in second half to down Ponchatoula for Class 5A title

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NEW ORLEANS – Two premier programs in Class 5A went head-to-head to determine who’s the best in Louisiana’s top classification.

The pair had a battle worthy of their standing.

Hank Tierney and his No. 3 Ponchatoula Green Wave came into this match with an impressive 12-0 record. Tierney looking to capture his second state title as head coach and Ponchatoula’s first since 1940.

However, top-seeded Zachary Broncos, winners of three state titles in the previous six years, were not to be denied, taking a 28-20 victory Saturday night at the Caesars Superdome.

After trailing 20-14 through one half of play, Zachary had all the answers after halftime.

With a stout defense and a mixture of both run and pass, the Broncos took over the third quarter.

Zachary safety Carlton Johnson intercepted Tribble at the one-yard line and returned it 46 yards to Green Wave 17-yard line. The Broncos took their first lead soon after, 21-20, on a one-yard touchdown run from Holstein, the Zachary game MVP. He completed 13 of 30 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns.

Holstein was intercepted by safety Jacoby Matthews but, like many times before, the Broncos defense rose to the occasion for a critical stop.

Zachary extended their advantage on Holstein’s 41-yard strike to Tylon Williams.

Johnson intercepted Tribble again, this time at the Zachary one-yard line.

Ponchatoula had one more chance to score and force overtime, but a deep ball towards Matthews was batted down as the clock expired.

Zachary earned the championship by shutting out the potent Green Wave in the second half.

Emotions were high in the first quarter, as both teams feed of the exciting fans in the Caesars Superdome. Both the Green Wave and Broncos came out flat, going three and out on consecutive possessions.

A trick play broke the ice. Green Wave quarterback Nolan Tribble hooked up with Amorion Walker for a 51-yard touchdown on a flea flicker to take a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Tribble, the game MVP for Ponchatoula, completed 25 of a Class 5A title game record 53 pass attempts for 307 yards.

Ponchatoula’s defense wouldn’t hold the Broncos high-powered offense in check for long but special teams kick-started Zachary. A 50-yard kickoff return by Jerome Robinson was followed up by the successful ground game. Halfback Conner Wisham muscled his way through the heart of the Green Wave defense for a nine-yard touchdown.

The Broncos took control of the game at this point, winning the time of possession handily. However, Ponchatoula did move the football only to be derailed by uncharacteristic penalties in the first quarter.

Still in the first half, the Green Wave caught a break with a pass interference call that setup the go-ahead nine-yard touchdown by Braydon Johnson. The score was set up by a roughing the kicker call on 33-yard field goal that Tierney took off the board to go for the touchdown.

Ponchatoula could have extended their lead to but a block field-goal attempt kept it 14-7.

Later in the second, the Green Wave suffered another blocked field-goal and costly interception.

Zachary quarterback Eli Holstein was intercepted by Darrien Brider, and Ponchatoula cashed in on the tournover four plays later with a three-yard touchdown by Johnson with 4:01 to go before halftime.

Holstein bounced back quickly, connecting with Jordan Williams for a 22-yard touchdown pass to bring within six at 20-14 at the break.

The disappointment will linger for Ponchatoula but the Green Wave had a wildly successful season and Tierney captured his 300th career coaching win in the semifinals.

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