St. Augustine rode its defense to the top of the District 4-6A standings on Friday night.
Senior leadership was required to ensure homecoming at St. Augustine High School did not become a homegoing for the Yellow Jackets’ playoff chances.
Friday’s game at Foots Brumley Stadium was a de facto district championship game, yet St. Augustine (3-4, 2-0) and visiting Ed White (2-4, 1-1) let opportunities come and go throughout the evening.
But when it mattered, seniors Nick Barlow, Robert Zuzu and Rylan Shugart all produced tackles for loss on the Commanders’ final possession to allow the Yellow Jackets to hold on for a 10-7 win.
It was Shugart, the homecoming king, who punctuated the game and punctured the Commanders’ playoff hopes. The linebacker sacked quarterback Chaz Hirschman with less than a minute remaining on fourth-and-32 to allow St. Augustine to line up in victory formation.
“We played with relentless effort, we never gave up,” Shugart said. “We came out playing through the whole game. We pulled together a win because we played as hard as we possibly could.”
Freshman kicker John Doughty’s 20-yard field goal on St. Augustine’s first drive was the difference in the game.
It was the second time this season the Yellow Jackets did not score a second-half point but used stifling defense to secure a victory. St. Augustine forced two fumbles, intercepted a pass and forced the visitors to turn the ball over on downs twice in the fourth quarter.
“We played as a team. We played as a unit. It was not a one-man show,” said St. Augustine defensive back Dequan Stanley, who intercepted a Commanders pass late in the third quarter. “We played as a family.”
Dequan’s older brother, Darius, came up with the football on what, arguably, was the most important down of the season for the Yellow Jackets.
Trailing 10-7, Ed White faced fourth-and-9 from St. Augustine 's 19 with eight minutes remaining. St. Augustine collapsed the pocket, junior linebacker Jaden McDowell forced a fumble and Stanley recovered to end the Commanders’ drive.
White coach Kevin Sullivan eschewed kicking a field goal because Isaac Byrd, who handled the kicking duties Friday was the team’s backup specialist. He already hit the crossbar on a 30-yard attempt, so asking Byrd to attempt a longer try, with the game — and season — in the balance was not something Sullivan was comfortable with.
“Our defense did a good job,” Sullivan said. “… I think we missed some opportunities and they missed some opportunities. That’s what I figured this game was going to be, nip and tuck.”
White running back Isaiah Flowers (13 carries, 135 yards) sprinted up the middle of the Yellow Jackets' defense for a 54-yard touchdown 43 seconds into the third quarter. The Commanders did not drive the length of the field again.
St. Augustine’s offensive miscues allowed the visitors to remain within striking distance. A fumble, inopportune holding penalties and missed assignments relegated the Yellow Jackets to 237 offensive yards.
The Jackets switched to a wildcat offense — with Michael Early taking snaps, McDowell playing running back and either Brandon Johnson or Justus Johnson lining up as a slot back who might run jet sweeps. It was that personnel group that led to St. Augustine’s only touchdown with 44.5 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Early threw a backward pass to Brandon Johnson who delivered a 35-yard touchdown pass to McDowell.
“That was the biggest of the night,” said McDowell who finished with 64 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards. “Without that we probably wouldn’t have won. We probably would have stayed in the game. But I do thank my (offensive) line, my receivers and all the other players who were on the field. I do appreciate them for blocking for me.”
With Nease’s 30-13 win over Middleburg on Friday St. Augustine is the only team in District 4-6A without a loss. The Yellow Jackets are in the driver’s seat for a 20th straight playoff appearance; but, they realize they cannot take anything, or any team, for granted.
“Our whole team put in so much effort this week,” Barlow said. “We had two weeks to prepare. I’m just so proud of all of them.”