While drubbing NCHS, Byrd nearly converts a rare, free opportunity

LOOK CLOSELY:  Byrd’s stellar kicker, Abram Murray, approaches a ball teed up at the 34-yard line, something seen less than Bigfoot. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Journal Sports)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

NATCHITOCHES — In an only-briefly-in-doubt 31-point Byrd win Friday night that finished in less than two hours — 1:47, to be exact, without a running clock — the most memorable play didn’t change the scoreboard.

Through the course of a season, and especially in explosive District 1-5A, some 76-yard scoring runs and passes happen. But kicks? Uh, nope. Even more rare, a free kick? Say, what?

Nobody at NSU’s Turpin Stadium had seen anything like it before. Not Warren Massia, the 50-year veteran Natchitoches Central stat man. Not Byrd’s longtime radio voice, Charlie Cavell. Not the much-admired Yellow Jackets’ stat guru, Chad Ardoin.

Not Byrd coach Stacy Ballew, or his junior kicker, one of the highest-rated Class of 2024 prep specialists in the country, Abram Murray.

But as NCHS, blanked and already four scores down in a 34-3 loss, lined up in its own territory for another punt with 10 seconds left before halftime, Ballew and Murray had sparkles in their eyes.

There’s this obscure rule, you see: after a fair catch, a team has the right to take a free kick from the line of scrimmage on the next play. If the kick goes through the uprights, the kicking team scores 3 points. It is also known as a “free kick field goal.”

There was a stiff south breeze of 15-20 mph into the punter’s face, setting up a scenario lost on almost everyone, except for a couple of folks on the Yellow Jackets’ sideline.

“My heart was really beating, and everybody was kinda quiet,” said Murray, “because nobody really knew what was going on. You never see that.”

After Jackson Dufrene – remember him – smoothly collected a fair catch at his own 34 with two seconds left, the improbable was suddenly possible.

“People in the stands were wondering what was going on, I’m sure,” said Ballew. “The kicker’s got all the time he wants, he gets to tee it up, and there’s no pressure, no rush by the defense.”

Once Dufrene did his part to trigger the unique opportunity, Murray calmly trotted out with his tee, while Ballew quickly redirected his kicking teams.

“Abram and I have talked about it before. I hadn’t talked to the whole team about it, which is why somebody (on the sideline) was screaming ‘Field goal’ (team), and I said, ‘No, it’s kickoff.’ I told the other 10, ‘You just go out and you just let him kick it.’”

Just two minutes before, Dufrene had snagged his second TD reception, a 23-yarder to go with an earlier 41-yard strike from Lake Lambert. Murray’s extra point was ruled no good, his first PAT miss this season.

(“I’m pretty sure it went in, but it’s all good. We won,” Murray said). With a little adrenalin pumping, he hammered the kickoff through the uprights, a wind-aided 70-yard faux field goal that very few high school kickers have ever managed.

That didn’t hurt Ballew’s decision to give Murray a shot at SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He nearly cashed in his lottery ticket.

“It was a yard short, if that. We’ve practiced it a little bit. We knew no matter what, we were going to try it with just a couple seconds left,” Murray said. “It was fun.”

As for the game: Byrd ruled. NCHS flashed early, taking the opening kickoff and moving to the Yellow Jackets’ 30, where a fourth-and-5 run was stacked up.

“The fourth-down stops are big. More and more schools are going for fourth downs, so when you get one, it’s big,” said Ballew, whose defense then stymied the Chiefs, allowing only eight first downs and 150 yards, losing the shutout on a 42-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Said standout senior linebacker Brooks Brossette: “Our key was to come in and set the tone early. We got that done and that’s what propelled us to victory.”

So did the Jackets’ offense. It scored on all four possessions in the first half, including a 6-play, 97-yard drive for the third TD, Devon Strickland’s 4-yard run for a 21-0 advantage. Byrd rushed for 255 yards and Lambert completed all three of his passes for 81 yards and the two scoring strikes to Dufrene.

Natchitoches Central (3-7, 2-5) headed home for the winter. Byrd (7-3, 4-3) clinched a first-round playoff bye.

“Proud of our team,” said Ballew. “Defense played well tonight. We’ve struggled at times, but the last 3-4 weeks, we’ve gotten better. Natchitoches has scored some points and they didn’t tonight.”

Byrd did. Although on the most unique play of this season for any local team, the Jackets didn’t. But it sure was cool.

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com 

Byrd 34, Natchitoches Central 3 

Score by quarters

Byrd | 7 | 20 | 7 | 0 | – 34

NCHS | 0 | 0 | 0 | 3 | – 3

Scoring summary

B – Malachi Johnson 8 run (Abram Murray kick)

B – Jackson Dufrene 41 pass from Lake Lambert (Murray kick)

B – Devon Strickland 4 run (Murray kick)

B – Dufrene 23 pass from Lambert (kick failed)

B – Tyler Nichols 9 run (Murray kick)

N – Restrepo 42 field goal

Individual leaders 

Rushing 

Byrd – Nichols 4-70, Strickland 13-68, Johnson 5-43, Simmons 7-41. 

NCHS – Jeremiah Miles 17-79, N. Homes 2-10, Zion Thompson 2-6, Titus Williams 1-minus-6.

Passing 

Byrd – Lambert 3-3-0-81.

NCHS – Brian Young 11-4-10-69.

Receiving

Byrd – Dufrene 3-81. 

NCHS – Camrin Davis 7-27, Smith 2-40, Miles 1-3, Helaire 1-minus-1.