Terrebonne High’s football season came down to a kicker who didn’t attempt a field goal in a game during the regular season.
But senior Johan Cruz stepped up and saved the Tigers’ season with a 29-yard field goal with 1 second left to lift No. 7 Terrebonne to a 24-22 win over No. 26 Chalmette during Friday’s Class 5A first-round playoff game played at Thibodaux High School. The game was played at Thibodaux due to wet field conditions at Thomas B. Smith Memorial Stadium in Houma.
Terrebonne (10-1 overall) advances to play No. 10 Ouachita Parish next week in the Class 5A second-round playoffs. It will be a home game for the Tigers, who won their first playoff game since 2010 on Friday.
“It was an emotional win,” Terrebonne coach Gary Hill said. “We have some stuff that we need to clean up for next week. Sometimes the first playoff game is the toughest. Let’s hope we can continue to win and I hope we get better next week.”
Terrebonne trailed 22-21 in the fourth quarter. Chalmette (6-5 overall) appeared to have control of the game in the final minutes when it recovered a fumble by Terrebonne’s Ja’Khi Douglas at the Tigers’ 38-yard line with 3:26 left.
Chalmette and its Wing-T offense tried to run the clock out, moving the ball down to the Tigers’ 11 yard line. On fourth down, the Tigers defense stuffed Chalmette running back Ralph Griffith on a 5-yard loss to give their offense on final chance with 1:47 left to play and no timeouts.
Terrebonne’s offense went to work on a 10-play, 72-yard drive, getting a 31-yard pass from Douglas to D’Jon Scott, a 14-yard run from Douglas, a 9-yard pass to Chaz Ward, a 12-yard run from Ward and a 5-yard keeper from Douglas to set up Cruz’s 29-yard kick.
Cruz nailed the kick, sparking a wild celebration from Terrebonne players, coaches and fans. After the game, he was dog-piled, wore the defense’s turnover chain and got carried off the field by his teammates.
“It feels great. I just had to do it for the team,” Cruz said. “This is my family. I had to get my mind right. I just had to make it and that’s what I did. It was the best feeling in the world. That’s Terrebonne High School football. We never quit. That’s on the road to the Dome baby.”
Cruz finished the game 2-for-2 on field goals. He made a 36-yard field goal before half.
Hill said he was confident that Cruz would come through for the Tigers.
“I told him all year he was going to be our field goal kicker just because he’s patient at practice,” Hill said. “Those were his first two kicks this year and he made both of them.”
Terrebonne athletic director/defensive coordinator Joe Clement, who coaches Cruz in boys’ soccer at Terrebonne, praised the kicker for stepping up under pressure to save the season.
“This is Johan’s first time playing football,” Clement said. “He’s from Nicaragua. He’s been a soccer player the whole time and he decided to come out and kick for us this year. He’s got a very strong leg. He’s been doing most of our kickoffs. He busted it through.”
Chalmette coach Jason Tucker said the Owls missed a golden opportunity late to seal the victory.
“It’s just a part of football. I’ve been around this for a long time and I’ve seen everything,” Tucker said. “Hat’s off to them for executing on the final drive. We had an opportunity to finish it at the end right here on offense and they did a good job on that fourth down to keep themselves in the game.”
Chalmette dominated for most of the first quarter, taking advantage of a tipped punt to set up at the Tigers’ 43-yard line.
On fourth down, Brendan Hoorman had a 23-yard run on a reverse. He later scored on a 2-yard touchdown run and added the two-point conversion to put Chalmette up 8-0 with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Chalmette threatened again when Jeff Bell returned a punt 38 yards down to the Tigers’ 22. The Owls couldn’t take advantage however as Terrebonne’s Cullen Butler forced a fumble that was recovered by Dillion Babin.
The turnover sparked Terrebonne’s offense, as it went on a 10-play, 71-yard drive that ended on a 3-yard run by Ja’Khi Douglas. The two-point attempt failed, keeping Chalmette in the lead at 8-6 with 6:34 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Chalmette’s Martez Whidby returned a kickoff 90 yards to put the Owls ahead 15-6 with 6:16 left before halftime.
Terrebonne (270 total yards, 205 rushing, 65 passing) answered with two scores before halftime. Anthony Ruffin Jr. pushed his way into the end zone on a 2-yard run on fourth down to make it 15-12 with 2:36 left in the second quarter (two-point attempt failed).
Terrebonne added a 36-yard field goal by Cruz with 15 seconds left to tie the score at 15.
In the third quarter, Terrebonne’s Cullen Butler recovered a short kickoff, leading to a 1-yard touchdown run by Chaz Ward (21 carries, 105 yards) on fourth down to put the Tigers ahead 21-15 with 7:34 left in third (extra point attempt failed).
Chalmette (135 total yards, 87 rushing, 48 passing) answered right back on its next drive on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Joshua Taylor, giving the Owls a 22-21 lead after Gerson Saavedra’s extra point with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
Hill said the Tigers committed many mistakes throughout the game, but he was proud of the way they continued to fight.
“All three phases of the game were great for us,” Hill said. “You can’t ask more out of your team and the effort they all gave all night long. Everybody stepped up for each other. That’s what it’s all about. It’s playoff football and our team moves on. It was a great game. It’s a shame somebody had to lose, but we’re playing next week. Good job by our kids.”
After the game, both Hill and Clement thanked Thibodaux High School and Lafourche Parish School Board for allowing the game to be played on Thibodaux’s turf field. It was the second time this season Terrebonne moved a scheduled home game to Thibodaux because of wet field conditions at its home field.