Hornets come back to sting Wildcats late

Published 11:48 pm Friday, September 1, 2017

Varnado’s Wildcats started the season with a tough loss Friday night, falling at home to Albany by the score of 25-16.

Varnado (0-1) led 16-7 after three quarters, but two turnovers proved extremely costly as Albany (1-0) scored on both miscues to aid in its comeback.

“I feel like we’re a good team, but we didn’t play for a full four quarters tonight,” Varnado coach Scott Shaffett said. “We’ve got to battle through and finish games in the future.”

Although the Wildcats play in the LHSAA’s Class 1A, Shaffett’s team opened their regular season with a game against a Class 3A opponent who started the 2016 season with nine straight wins. Albany took an initial 7-0 lead Friday, but Varnado battled in front with 9:04 left in the second quarter and never trailed again until the fourth quarter.

“I wanted us to schedule some bigger, physical teams early in the season, because that’s the kind of team that we saw in the 1A playoffs last year,” Shaffett said. “The only way that we’re going to get to better is to toughen the schedule, and I think we did that.”

Albany held Varnado to three-and-out on its first possession, and the Hornets then put together an eight-play, 74-yard drive to take the lead. All eight plays were runs. Kamryn Mayers capped off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, and Orlando Piñeda added the extra point to put Albany ahead 7-0 with 6:59 left in the first quarter.

The Wildcats were held to three-and-out again on their second possession, but the defense held strong on Albany’s following drive. The Hornets failed to convert a fourth-and-14 from the Varnado 34, and the Wildcats took over from there with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.

“I thought that was a big defensive stop for us,” Shaffett said. “We lost a number of seniors on defense from last year, and we’re still trying to find some depth on that side of the ball.”

Varnado then put together a drive of its own, marching 66 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback James Williams passed to Jaccourious Bickham for a 25-yard touchdown, and Desmond Harry added the two-point conversion to put Varnado ahead 8-7 with 9:04 left in the second quarter.

Varnado added another touchdown late in the first half, when JaDarrell Magee broke away for a 14-yard scoring run with 3:28 left in the second. Magee also added the two-point conversion run, and the Wildcats took that 16-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The Wildcats continued to lead 16-7 heading into the fourth quarter, when the “wheels came off,” as Shaffett stated after the game.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, facing third-and-11 from the Varnado 12, Williams went back to pass and was forced to scramble. He tried to throw the ball away at the last moment, but his arm was hit and the ball fluttered straight to an Albany defender, who returned it 4 yards for a touchdown. Albany’s Brad Lewis was short on the two-point conversion attempt, but the Hornets still cut the lead to 16-13 with 11:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Varnado was held to three-and-out on its next drive, and the Hornets added a touchdown quickly. Albany took over on the Varnado 42, and Lewis broke away for a 44-yard run on the first play of the drive. Lewis then did the rest on the next play, scoring a 14-yard touchdown run. Mayers failed on the two-point conversion run, as Albany took a 19-16 lead with 9:51 left.

Once again, the Wildcats were hurt by turnovers on their next possession. On the first play of the drive, which started at the Varnado 30, Williams went back to pass but was hit as he scrambled. An Albany defender picked up the ball and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.

Piñeda missed the extra point, as Albany increased its lead to 25-16 with 9:38 in the fourth quarter.

“It just really got away from us in the fourth quarter,” Shaffett said. “The wheels started coming off. Every turnover kills you, but those two were really painful because they scored on both of them. Those two late scores really gave Albany the momentum to finish the game, and we can’t make mistakes like those.”

Varnado had one more drive to try to come back, but the Wildcats were forced to punt, and Albany was then able to run out the clock.

Varnado will remain home next Friday night, as the Wildcats host Pine in a parish rivalry game at 7 p.m.