NATCHITOCHES, La (KMSS/KTAL) – The Byrd Yellow Jackets were hoping to party like it was 1949. Instead, they’ll have to wait until at least 2021 to win their first state championship since ’49, falling in the Division I state title game on Sunday night to Catholic High of Baton Rouge 35-12.
Things began well for the tournament’s 3-seed, who were making their first state championship appearence since 2013. Brayden Hermes intercepted Catholic quarterback Daniel Beale on the game’s third play but the Bear defense rose quickly to the occasion, stopping Byrd’s Venzel Thompson on a fullback dive on a 4th & 1 to give the Bears the ball back.
From there the high powered Catholic offense went on their first scoring march of the evening, a 13-play, 59 yard drive which was capped off with Landon O’ Connor’s 1-yard quarterback sneak which saw the signal caller leap over the Yellow Jacket defensive line, extending the ball over the goalline for the score.
With the Bears driving again later in the quarter, Hermes stepped up once more, intercepting Beale for the second time in the quarter, this time at the goalline to keep the Yellow Jackets within a touchdown. After another Yellow Jacket drive stalled out the defense would not be as lucky.
Tre’ Benson, who was named the game’s MVP, catching 4 passes for 140 yards, screeched across the field, catching Beale’s pass in-stride and outraced the Byrd defense the remainder of the way for a 78-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 14-0 lead.
With 4:48 remaining in the first half, and the offense showing little sign of life thus far, quarterback Lake Lambert led the Jackets on their best drive of the evening, covering 84 yards in 13 plays. The drive was finished off by Byrd’s MVP of the night, William Berry who took a toss into the endzone from four yards out. The extra point was blocked as both team’s headed to the locker room with Byrd trailing 14-6.
With momentum on their side, the Yellow Jackets quickly saw that momentum turn into frustration as Lambert fumbled inside his own 20. The fumble bounced right into the hands of Catholic’s Jackson Walker who walked the final 15 yards for the score to make it 21-6.
The Yellow Jackets quickly responded with another impressive drive, as Lambert used his legs as well as his arm to lead the Jackets downfield before capping off the drive on a 6-yard quarterback keeper to cut the deficit to nine. Instead of opting for the extra point, Head Coach Mike Suggs elected to go for two to cut the deficit to seven. The Bears swarmed Berry in the backfield on the attempt to hold onto a 9-point lead.
That would be the last time the Yellow Jackets found the endzone or the scoreboard Sunday night in Natchitoches. Daniel Beale found Shelton Sampson on a 12-yard fade route in the endzone to go up 28-12 before Landon O’ Connor ran in for the quarterback’s second rushing touchdown of the evening to finish the scoring.
“We’re not going to be defined, this season’s not going to be defined, and this group of young men are not going to be defined by one ball game whether we won or lost it” Head Coach Mike Suggs said after the game. “I just can’t say enough how proud I am of this group of seniors and this football team.”
Byrd is one of the more unlikely teams in Natchitoches playing for a state title given the Yellow Jackets were coming off a disappointing 4-7 campaign in 2019. Those hardships weren’t lost on running back William Berry when he talked about the season the Yellow Jackets had in 2020.
“Coming into this season if you would’ve told somebody Byrd is going to be in the state championship they would’ve said you’re crazy” said Berry who finished the game with 6 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. “I don’t think this takes away from anything this team has accomplished.”
The Yellow Jackets accomplished much more than many thought they would, reaching the state title game for the first time since 2013, and just the second time since 1962. They will have to wait at least one more year to end their 71-year state title drought though. Catholic of Baton Rouge on the other hand continues their reign as one of the state’s premiere powers, regardless of Class/Division. The Bears won their third state title after falling short in the championship game in the last two seasons.