This time, Sulphur didn’t relinquish a double-digit lead to John Marshall.
But, it was awfully close.
Lenard Levistan’s 18-yard pass to London Matthews in the corner of the end zone was ruled out of bounced as time expired and the Bulldogs hung on to win 35-34 at Taft Stadium in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs Friday night.
“It was about a foot,” Sulphur coach Jim Dixon said of how far Matthews’ feet were out of bounds. “We were blessed to win. They’re a good football team. It was a big win.”
With the win, Sulphur (9-3) advances to this week’s quarterfinal where it will host Lincoln Christian (12-0). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Friday at Agee Field.
The first time the two teams played this season, Sulphur jumped out to a 19-7 before giving up 30 unanswered points in a 37-19 loss. Friday, the Bulldogs led 35-7 after Brant Miller recovered a punt in the end zone that freshman Trey Kiser had blocked with 6:50 remaining in the second quarter.
Attempting just seven passes, Sulphur relied on its power running game and offensive line to get the job done.
Quarterback Cole Palmer set the tone. He accounted for the first four Bulldogs touchdowns — runs of 11, 4 and 16 yards and an accurate pass to Cameron Jones for a 19-yard touchdown pass — all during the game’s first 16 minutes. He went on to finish with a team-high 179 rushing yards on 35 carries.
“Cole played extremely hard and was a big part to getting out to the big lead,” Dixon said.
Dalton James returned to the Sulphur lineup for the first time since suffering a broken collarbone in the Oct. 16 matchup against John Marshall (10-2). He finished with 17 carries for 58 rushing yards.
“He ran the ball well, especially in the first half,” Dixon said. “He was real sore after the game. He was released to play last week but we didn’t play him as we wanted to save him for Friday. He should be fine for next week.”
Dixon praised the offensive line for its blocking — especially in the first half.
“The offensive line played well in the first half,” he said. “We blocked extremely well. They (John Marshall) came out in a 6-1 defense, something that they hadn’t run all year. It didn’t bother us.”
The Bulldogs defense limited the Bears’ potent offense to 14 points during the first two quarters — a 64-yard pass play from Leviston to Justin Brolies and a 23-yard run by Devonte Lee — and for the game, forced four turnovers. Ray Trent and Cameron Jones each picked off an errant Leviston pass. Tyler Bumgarner and Wyatt Parks recovered a fumble apiece.
In a game in which Leviston passed for 299 yards on 21-of-27 passing, he and Devonte Lee nearly brought John Marshall back from a 28-pont deficit.
Lee ran for scores of 23 and 12 yards and Leviston hooked up with Matthews on a 34-yard pass play and scored on a 13-yard run that cut Sulphur’s lead to 35-34 lead with 2:15 left in the fourth.
Kiser blocked an extra-point attempt by Josue Carillo that would have tied the game.
“We didn’t play him much until after the ninth-grade season,” Dixon said of Kiser. “He is a really talented man. He’s started the last three or four games and he’s playing extremely well for a pup. But, it’s not only him. They’re all playing well as they can right now. They’re all getting better each week.”
The Bulldogs’ attention is now focused on Lincoln Christian.
“The last time we played them was in the third round six or seven years ago,” Dixon said. “It is nice to have the advantage of playing at home, no doubt about it. It makes a difference. I’m sure they’ll be heavily favored.
“But our kids keep stepping up. I’ve been very pleased with this bunch. They’ve improved every week.”