WALKER -- Wins don’t have to be masterpieces all the time. Sometimes they just need to be the result a struggling team needs to regain some footing.
After a pair of humbling losses, Walker did just that Thursday night when Belaire visited Wildcat Stadium.
On a night when the Bengals played their best District 4-5A game in a season of struggle as they manage being misplaced by a strange redistricting glitch, Walker had to grind through a 42-12 victory – its first in league play this fall.
“We didn’t play a perfect game, but we did some things a lot better,” said Wildcats’ senior safety Calvin Watson, who was a huge factor with a 73-yard kickoff return touchdown and two interceptions. “We got better and now we know we have to keep getting better the next three weeks.”
In a strangely disjointed game, Walker (4-3, 1-0) scored the first two touchdowns of the night and never really seemed threatened despite running only four offensive plays in the game’s initial 16:24 and 33 in all.
The Bengals (1-6, 0-4) weren’t overly productive with the ball in their first three series with only 32 yards, but they sustained drives enough to keep Walker from exploding.
Following an 11-play possession to begin the game that ended when Jerome Wilson and Avery Smith combined to drop Belaire quarterback Jushawn Sipp for a 15-yard loss on fourth down, the Cats didn’t waste a lot of time getting on the scoreboard.
Tristan Taylor plowed through the Bengals’ defense for 34 yards, ate up 8 more on the next play and then shrugged off a holding penalty and slashed 25 yards to the end zone to put Walker ahead 7-0 with 6:44 left in the opening quarter.
Sipp rifled a 9-yard pass to Travon Myles to convert a third down on the Bengals’ ensuing possession, but before they could establish any momentum, a bad snap and Watson nearly snagging an interception for a pick-six derailed the series.
Belaire was forced to punt and when the kick didn’t clear midfield, Darius Hampton grabbed the ball on the fly, slithered through a pair of defenders and raced to daylight on the way to a 48-yard touchdown return.
“Special teams was very important for us (Thursday) because sometimes the offense doesn’t get a score and the defense gets a stop to get us the ball back,” Watson said.
The Cats’ quick-strike knack loomed larger when Belaire finally began to click on offense.
With Sipp – making his first start at QB in place of Myles – showing no temerity to throw the ball downfield, the Bengals put together their two best drives of the game after falling behind 14-0.
Kelvis Jack ended Walker’s second offensive set on the firs play when he yanked down a deflected Christian Ard pass for an interception.
On back-to-back plays, Sipp pumped connections of 26 yards to Kelvin Whitaker and 27 to Myles to move the ball from the Belaire 46-yard-line to the WHS 1. Three plays later after a penalty, Sipp floated a 7-yard TD pass to Whitaker to reduce the deficit to 14-6.
“They really do have some players,” Walker coach Lester Ricard said. “You go back and watch any of their games and they consistently makes plays, so that didn’t surprise us.”
Nor did it faze the Cats much.
Watson picked up a short kickoff at the 27-yard-line dashed through an opening to his left and got past a wall of would-be tacklers before breaking into the open, his 73-yard journey finishing in the end zone.
That nudged Walker’s lead back to 21-6 but the Bengals had one last response.
Smith dumped Sipp for a 10-yard loss on the first snap of Belaire’s ensuing series, but a facemask on Walker helped gain most of the lost real estate back. On 3rd-and-12, Sipp scrambled for 21 yards to prolong the march and set a tone.
Belaire faced 3rd-and-long twice more on the possession with Sipp zipping a 27-yard pass to Whitaker on one and then finding him on a 28-yard touchdown on the second.
Whitaker finished with 9 catches for 112 yards in the first half before the Wildcats’ secondary – spearheaded by Watson – clamped down on him and held him without a catch in the second half.
“He has been very consistent for us all season,” Bengals’ coach Kevin Jackson said. “(Sipp) made some big throws when he had to and (Whitaker) was a big presence for us.”
The Wildcats’ defense became a stronger presence after that.
Three of the Bengals’ next four possessions ended with interceptions, Watson’s pair and a third by B.J. Lockhart in the end zone.
Meanwhile, Walker’s freshman quarterback Christian Ard and the offense found a comfort zone.
Once the Wildcats managed to get on the field and stay there for a while, they pieced together touchdown drives of 65, 40 and 60 yards with diversity a common thread.
Taylor and Jashown Garrett split the load out of the backfield: Taylor bulled his way to 110 yards on 10 carries and Garrett ended up with 47 on eight totes.
Ard delivered his steadiest performance so far, hitting 9-of-18 passes and connecting with six different receivers for 139 yards. He used his legs to extend plays and seemed more comfortable regardless of the play call.
“My teammates pumped me up all week about going out and having a good night,” Ard said. “They were blitzing and try to put a lot of pressure on me but I was able to scramble and make some plays and that helped calm me down.”
Added Ricard, “I was pleased with how he played. If his future is what I think it can be, he needs these kinds of moments. He had a different look in his eyes (Thursday), and that’s a big step for him.”
Jackson also saw big steps from his team, which didn’t have to deal with the indignity of a running clock for the first time in district play.
The Bengals finished with 246 yards, paced by Sipp (189 passing yards) and Whitaker.
“This is the most proud I’ve been of my team all season,” Jackson said. “They never gave up and made Walker earn every inch of what they got. This season has been frustrating at times, but our guys have continued to fight. These last three weeks, we’re building for next year and we just want to keep getting better.”
Both teams take on Livingston Parish foes next week: Walker plays at Denham Springs High and the Bengals travel to Watson to face Live Oak, with both games kicking off at 7 p.m.
OUTSIDE THE HUDDLE
- Of the 9 passes that Ard completed, four covered 20 yards or more and a fifth garnered a first down. The 20-plus plays went to Darius Hampton (23), Jalen Cook (20, 37) and Trent Montgomery (23).
- Hampton added a second catch to wind up with 25 yards receiving, but he also racked up 98 yards on returns – 48 on a punt for a touchdown and 50 on the second-half kickoff.
- Four of Jushawn Sipp’s pass completions gobbled up 107 yards and all came within a stretch of 15 plays on Belaire’s two TD drives. Sipp also accounted for the Bengals’ only other play of 20+ yards on a third-down scramble.
- Walker’s team rushing total was skewed by three bad shotgun snaps that created -39 yards and led to a pair of lost fumbles.
- The Wildcats limited Belaire to 57 rushing yards with Keston Johnson supplying the bulk of those with 47 yards on 15 attempts.
- 10 of Sipp’s 17 completions came in the first quarter. After the first 12 minutes, he was 7-for-18 with three interceptions.
WALKER 42, BELAIRE 12
Belaire 0 12 0 0 -- 12
Walker 14 14 14 0 -- 42
WAL – Tristan Taylor 25 run (Caleb Wall kick)
WAL – Darius Hampton 48 punt return (Wall kick)
BEL – Kelvin Whitaker 7 pass from Jushawn Shipp (run failed)
WAL – Calvin Watson 73 kickoff return (Wall kick)
BEL – Whitaker 28 pass from Shipp (run failed)
WAL – Jalen Cook 8 pass from Christian Ard (Wall kick)
WAL – Jashown Garrett 4 run (Wall kick)
WAL – Hampton 2 pass from Ard (Wall kick)
First downs 10 15
Total yards 246 273
Rushes-yards 33-57 25-134
Passing yards 189 139
Passes 17-32-3 9-18-1
Fumbles-lost 3-1 3-2
Punts-Avg. 3-34.3 1-53.0
Penalties-yards 11-102 7-75
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 610.5507 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta | @LPN_Sports | @LPNews1898