By BRET H. MCCORMICK, Journal Sports
Tioga’s defense pitched its second shutout in three weeks Friday night, holding parish rival Pineville to 132 yards of offense in a 35-0 win as the Indians improved to 3-0 on the season.
Senior Ja’Corian Norris returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and junior running back Travis Adams scored twice while rushing for a season-high 152 yards to lead the Indians.
Tioga has given up 28 points on the season, and after Norris’ two pick-sixes gave the Indians six on the season, their defense is responsible for 36 points.
Tioga coach Kevin Cook attributed that to two things – the scheme of defensive coordinator John Muder and the athletes the Indians have in the secondary, who know what to do with the ball when they get it in their hands.
“The back half of our defense just has a lot of really great athletes, and they’ve bought into what he’s teaching,” Cook said.
“(Norris is) definitely everything that he’s hyped up to be,” said Pineville coach Bryant Bell, who was Tioga’s defensive coordinator during Norris’ freshman year.
Tioga turned in a dominating performance to defeat the Rebels (1-2) in convincing fashion for the second consecutive season. In a rivalry onced owned by Pineville, the Indians improved to 6-2 against their rival since Cook became coach in 2015.
Adams gave Tioga the lead less than two minutes into the game when he broke free for a 41-yard touchdown. Norris made it 14-0 a few minutes later when he picked off Jaylan Witty’s pass at the Tioga 38 and took off for a 62-yard score.
Tioga was able to put the game away in the third quarter as Adams broke a 23-yard touchdown off right tackle and Norris jumped a route to snatch another Witty pass out of the air for a 37-yard touchdown to put the Indians ahead 28-0 just over five minutes into the second half.
Sophomore Kenny Ponthier put the icing on the cake for the Indians with a 2-yard touchdown run to cap the scoring. Thanks to their tenacious defense that bottled up the Rebels all game, the Indians didn’t need to do a whole lot offensively.
Sophomore quarterback Cace Malone completed 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards as he spread the ball around to five different receivers, and nine different players combined to rush for 209 yards. Adams led the way with 13 carries, while Ponthier added 47 yards on seven touches.
Pineville adjusted its offensive formations and personnel after what Bell termed “our poor offensive output in the Menard game.” Gone was the wishbone, along with wingback Erick Frazier, who played exclusively on defense against Tioga, and Sebastian Molette as the featured back, as he moved from fullback to tight end.
The Rebels came out in the I-formation with junior Ty Sanders, who played safety the first two weeks, as the featured back. After they fell behind, they ran more shotgun spread with four receivers.
“We’re not just going to sit around and take it again,” Bell said. “We kind of re-personneled to some degree. We felt like the I-formation and moving a couple of people around would help our team.”
The results were mixed. Bell said he felt like the Rebels moved the ball OK, but four turnovers hampered the offense. Sanders and fullback Ethan Gates combined for 99 rushing yards on 26 carries, but Witty was just 7-of-15 passing for 26 yards.
“We’re searching for that big-play capability,” Bell said.
Norris finished with three interceptions in the game as Tioga pushed its total number of picks to eight on the season.
After missing Week 1 with an illness that threatened to sideline him indefinitely, Adams has turned in two solid showings in a row, and Cook said what looked like a question mark at the start of the season because of the uncertainty surrounding Adams has turned into a strength for the Indians.
“He expects it out of himself, and we expect it out of him,” Cook said. “That’s the bottom line. At the end we have a good 1-2 punch.”
BUCKEYE 67, PINE PRAIRIE 26
Junior Jim Burlew continued his impressive play as the leading rusher in Rapides Parish with his third straight 100-yard rushing performance as the Panthers put on a scoring clinic Friday night.
Burlew rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns in the first half while also returning an interception 92 yards in the first quarter as the Panthers (2-1) piled up 59 first-half points.
Junior quarterback Adam Brodnax passed for 193 yards and two touchdowns and scrambled for an 18-yard TD that gave Buckeye a 25-6 lead late in the first quarter.
Bryce Warthen led the Panthers with 117 receiving yards and a TD on six catches, Christian Morace added two rushing touchdowns and Ethan Glaze returned a kickoff 65 yards for a score late in the game.
Buckeye’s defense gave up 359 yards but also forced four turnovers, including three interceptions.