THE POST-SIGNAL / Chris Quebedeaux
Church Point’s Andy Briceno runs past a defender en route to a 26-yard touchdown Friday during the Bears’ 44-21 victory over Opelousas Catholic.
Second half surge propels Bears past Vikings
After rallying for two touchdowns in the second quarter to close what was once a 19-point deficit to five at the half (19-14), the Opelousas Catholic Vikings seemed to have all the momentum on their side in their non-district matchup with the Church Point Bears Friday.
That momentum quickly shifted, however, with the start of the third quarter.
The Bears (5-0) reeled off 19 more points in the third quarter and added another touchdown in the fourth to run away with a 44-21 victory at Donald Gardner Stadium.
“This was a good pickup for us,” said CPHS coach John Craig Arceneaux of playing the Vikings, a replacement for Mamou.
Mamou backed out of their regularly scheduled game with the Bears.
“We knew they (OC) would be coached up on defense and we needed to see someone that wanted to throw it 50 times a game because we know we’re going to draw those type of teams in the playoffs.”
From the onset, it looked as if it would be a runaway for Arceneaux’s squad.
After Jamarion Citizen recovered a fumble on the Vikings’ second offensive series, quarterback Dylan Stelly connected with Gavin Richard on a long touchdown pass to give the Bears a 6-0 lead after a failed two-point conversion.
Then on the Vikings’ next possession, Andy Briceno stepped in front of a Drake Guidry pass for an interception and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown.
It was the first of many big plays for Briceno on the night.
The Bears tacked on another score before the first period expired when Stelly raced in from 55 yards out to give the guests what seemed to be a commanding lead.
The Vikings answered back however.
After marching deep into Church Point territory, the Vikings struck for a 17-yard touchdown pass from Drake Guidry to Rhett Duhon on fourth-and-10 to creep back into the game at 19-7.
Midway through the second quarter, the Vikings struck again, this time on a quarterback keeper by Guidry for a four-yard touchdown to trim the lead to 19-14.
The scoring drive was aided by a pass interference call against the Bears on a another fourth-and-long situation for the Vikings.
“We started really fast, got up 19-0 and then we just kind of relaxed,” said Arceneaux. “We turned the ball over and got some big penalties on big downs that extended drives and kind of allowed them to get back into the football game.”
The Bears also squandered a pair of scoring opportunities of their own that could have increased their cushion at the break.
With the Bears up 19-7, Church Point’s Brayden Andrew intercepted a pass and returned it the Vikings’ 25-yard line.
The Vikings’ defense held, however, and forced the Bears to turn the ball over on downs.
Then, with just over a minute remaining and the Bears near the red zone again, Briceno threw an interception at the 1-yard line to thwart another potential scoring drive.
“We had some opportunities,” said Arceneaux. “But we need to make those mistakes now so we can get those things corrected moving forward.”
Any hopes of a comeback for the Vikings were laid to rest early and often in the third quarter as the Bears scored three times in the span of nine minutes to basically put the game away.
“We challenged the kids at halftime, we made a few little adjustments and then we just kind of took control with our run game in the second half,” said Arceneaux.
That all started with the Bears’ first possession of the third quarter as they marched down the field on runs by Briceno, Richard and Tylon Citizen before Stelly capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Khaled Babineaux also had a big 38-yard reception during the scoring drive.
The Bears’ defense came through on the Vikings’ ensuing possession when Javen Gibson and Tony Gibson combined for a sack that jarred the ball loose, giving Church Point possession once again.
And, once again, the Bears made the Vikings pay for the turnover when Briceno broke loose for a 26-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead to 31-14 with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Bears were far from finished, however.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Vikings muffed a short kick and Dionte Chavis recovered the ball, giving the Bears possession near midfield.
After a handful of runs to get deep in the red zone, Citizen hit pay dirt from nine yards out.
It was the fourth time in three quarters that the Bears converted turnovers into points.
“Moving forward, as we start to move towards playoff football, you have to take advantage of the opportunities that you get,” said Arceneaux. “So getting sudden change points like that is big.”
Citizen had another long scoring run early in the fourth quarter, this one from 44 yards out, to push the lead to 44-14, spelling the end of the night for the Church Point starters with just under 11 minutes remaining.
The Vikings added a cosmetic touchdown late in the game with reserves for both teams on the field.
Overall, the Bears’ defense held the Vikings’ pass-happy offense to next to nothing in the first and third quarters.
The Vikings attempted over 40 passes on the night, including 21 in the first quarter alone.
“Rob (Poole) has come in and done a great job since Day 1,” said Arceneaux of Poole, his first-year defensive coordinator. “We knew we were going to be good in the box, so we’ve spent a lot of time preparing for teams like this because these are the teams that have been kind of our Achilles heel at times the last couple of years.
“We have to be able to cover those guys if we want to be able to extend a run in the playoffs.”
For now, Arceneaux is left scrambling to find a Week 8 opponent after Pine Prairie backed out of the Bears’ regular-season finale next week.
Whether the Bears find an opponent or not, they will still likely be a high seed when the playoffs begin on Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving.
“We just have to continue to build,” said Arceneaux. “We just haven’t been able to hit a rhythm the way the season has been, so choppy for us with teams backing out on games and us losing games and having open weeks.
“ We just have to try to continue to build and try to get better for that Thanksgiving week.”