By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Friday’s 36-35 second round playoff victory by the Airline Vikings was not the greatest win in school history.
It just felt that way to head coach Justin Scogin.
During the week, the happy-go-lucky Scogin was still that way, but there was a definite nervousness he carried with him. On Wednesday, he said “We’ve got to win this game,” almost under his breath without even being really prompted.
When Friday’s nail-biter was over, Scogin seemed more relieved than excited, especially after his defense came up with a stop on a two-point play in the waning moments that basically saved the game and earned the Vikings a trip to the quarterfinals.
You could tell there was a little something extra at work here.
“This was the biggest game of our time here,” said Scogin, who is in his second year. “We talked about it all week. Nobody is going to take us seriously until we win a game like this. We’ve got to get over this hump.”
Last year didn’t help.
The Vikings went undefeated in District 1-5A, winning the last seven of the regular season, and then got summarily dismissed from the playoffs in the first round. Adding insult to injury was that the loss came from another 1-5A team, Haughton.
“This was the biggest game of my career,” Scogin said. “I love the kids, the kids love me and our staff does a great job of building great relationships with the them. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to win in the playoffs. That’s what you are going to be remembered for.”
It’s not as though Airline hasn’t been down this road before. That state championship came in 1967, in only the school’s fourth year of existence (and second year for playoff eligibility). This will be the Vikings’ third trip to the quarterfinals in the last six years, so it’s not like there is some playoff drought.
But it did feel like Airline, after getting a bye and a No. 4 seed, couldn’t let the season be defined by a one-and-out playoff appearance. Upstart Southside just wouldn’t go away, scoring two fourth-period touchdowns and choosing to try to snag the late lead instead of kicking an extra point that could have led to overtime.
“I told them at the end that this is what you play for,” Scogin said of the two-point stop. “Everything you’ve done is for this moment.”
A few minutes earlier, Airline was about to sock the game away, but tight end Bob Patterson got caught from behind on a long pass at the five-yard line and fumbled.
“We tell them all the time that you have to pick up your teammates and they did,” Scogin said. “I was upset that it happened to one of the best kids we have in the program. He just does every single thing right. He never misses a workout, he never does anything wrong. He’s everything you hope for in a kid is a Bob Patterson.”
Even after the two-point stop, it still wasn’t over. Fittingly, it was Patterson who recovered the onside kick, but Scogin wasn’t celebrating. He knew with Southside still having two timeouts, it still wasn’t over unless Airline got a first down. How did he know? Look at a chart? Scribble the math on a sheet of paper?
“When I took this job in the summer (of 2022), my wife was still in Leesville and I was living in an apartment with nothing but a mattress, boxspring and a TV,” he said. “So we met with the kids in Natchitoches one day at the alligator park. When I was driving home, I was thinking about this exact scenario. I actually missed the exit and was headed to Dallas instead because I was going through all the scenarios. But I think about these situations all the time, even in the shower. I knew with 1:46 (left) we couldn’t run the clock out. We had to get a first down.”
On second down, an 18-yard run by Tre Jackson did just that. Three Victory Formations later, it was all over.
“I never got too excited until we took the last knee,” Scogin said late Friday. “But tonight … it’s just more than I could have ever imagined.”
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