Underdog Tigers feast on No. 2 seed Vikings

This article published in the Dec. 2, 2021, print edition

By Trent Friedel

The Saint Mary’s Tigers took to the road Friday night in hopes of reversing last year’s one and done appearance in the Division IV playoffs. In their way stood the number two seed, Opelousas Catholic Vikings. The Tigers were coming off a disappointing loss on the road to Logansport and looking to assert themselves in postseason play. They seem to be a contender overlooked by many of the pigskin prognosticators as the number 10 seed. Opelousas moved down to the 1A level this year and lost in the first round of the playoffs last season. The only two blemishes on their record were the first and last game of the regular season.

The Vikings possess possibly one of the most experienced coaching staffs in Louisiana high school football. Four have head coach experience and one at the collegiate level. Play commenced with the Vikings winning the toss but deferring to the second half. Saint Mary’s was only too happy to see what they could get going on offense. The Tigers took in the kick and started a drive into Viking land. They progressed to the 30 before Matt Nelson lost the ball at the Viking 20 after receiving a swing pass from Howell. Déjà vu of the opening drive last week when they had a similar misfortune. The Vikings can only muster negative yardage against a hungry Tiger defense and punt the ball away. Tigers start at their 44 and match the Viking three and out with one of their own. The kick off Shelton’s toe rockets skyward and upon re-entry is placed at the Viking 48.

Wes Manuel is the first Tiger to get a taste of Viking blood. He goes high to deflect a pass from Mengarelli tipping it to himself and returns the interception to the Viking 19. The third play yields a redemption carry for Nelson and he goes off left tackle behind Matthew Thibodaux and finds his meal in the end zone. The point after is good and the Tigers capitalize on the interception. Tigers 7 – 0. The Vikings, under intense pressure from the Tigers, are dropped for two sacks and punt to Saint Mary’s. The kick is a short one and the Tigers have a short field to work with starting at the Viking 47. Howell takes the first snap and powers to the Viking 28.

That play ended the first quarter and the teams swapped ends of the field. Aaron Howell then spies Slade Bienvenu in the middle of the field, but Cameron Lee attacks the pass and intercepts it at the Viking 10. The Norsemen, unable to establish a ground attack or capitalize on the Lee interception, punt to Saint Mary’s. The Tigers, hungry to put second quarter points on the score board, mix up pass and run before Howell satiates the team with a run of 30 plus yards to score. The point after kick is blocked but the score is SMH 13, Vikings 0. Opelousas Catholic returns the kick to the 35 and begins to swing their offensive battle axe. They are aided by a Tiger penalty that keeps the drive alive and Mengarelli commands his troops to the Tiger 11. That’s where the Tiger defense puts their paws down and halts advances prompting a field goal attempt that is successful for the Vikings. SMH 13 Vikings 3. Bailey Shelton receives the kickoff and is one tackler and a shoestring away from scoring as he takes the ball to the 43. Heat up the grill because the Tigers are not finished, Howell to Bienvenu on a pass of 31 yards and a two-point conversion run fails.

The score stands at Saint Mary’s 19, Vikings 3. On the ensuing kick, Jace Nobles propels himself through the Viking wedge and stops the return at the Viking 28. Time is dwindling in the first half and Opelousas tries air attacking the Tiger defense who thwart the attack and take the 16-point lead into the half. Saint Mary’s kicks to an energized group of Vikings to start the third quarter. Devin Thierry is the intended runner and receiver on the drive that propels the Vikings to the Tiger 6. The tenacious defense makes another stand and denies the Vikings any progress.

Saint Mary’s takes over on downs at their 6-yard line. From there the Tigers are hampered by a penalty and punt to the Vikings. Opelousas gains momentum and the scrambling quarterback completes a pass that takes the Vikings to the Tiger 9. The defense is again up to the task of denying the Vikings access to the end zone and Opelousas turns the ball over on downs after getting as close as the 3-yard line. It’s the second time the Vikings enter the red zone and have nothing to show for the effort. Saint Mary’s starts with the ball on their own 3 and the fourth quarter would start three plays later. A methodical drive would ensue that culminates with another feeding of the Tigers. This time Aaron connects with Bienvenu on a quick slant for the score and Nelson tacks on a rushing two-point conversion to make the score Tigers 27, Vikings 3. Five minutes remain when the Vikings take in the kick and try to narrow the deficit. Viking QB Mengarelli tries to take a bite out of the Tiger lead but his long pass attempt is errant and reined in by Parker Bankston. Bankston advances the interception 37 yards to the Viking 30 before being upended.

The Tigers are ready for dessert and eat it after only four plays when Nelson runs in the last score for Saint Mary’s from 5 yards out. The extra point passing attempt fails and the score stands at Tigers 33, Vikings3. The Vikings have the ball and two minutes and change to make the score respectable. On the third play the formidable defense comes up again with a sack of Mengarelli this time at the hands of Kayne Rachel. The defense of Saint Mary’s is nothing short of spectacular in this contest. Saint Mary’s fires the flaming arrow into the Viking boat extinguishing any hope of Opelousas Catholic continuing post season play. The underdog Tigers feast on the Vikings amassing 350 yards of offense and holding the opponent to only 169. Penalties continue to plague the Tigers, they were flagged six times in this contest.

Saint Mary’s returns home against Cedar Creek for the second round of post season action. The Cougars are the number two seed in the Division IV playoff bracket and will be the next obstacle standing in the Tigers way.