Home > Pick-6 leads emotional Byrd to light on dark day | USA Today High School Sports

Pick-6 leads emotional Byrd to light on dark day | USA Today High School Sports

Byrd students cheer during Friday evening at Airline High School.

Byrd students cheer during Friday evening at Airline High School.

Near the end of one of the darkest days in the history of Byrd athletics, Luther Dallas finally saw some light.

With a minute left in a nail-biter against Airline, the senior defensive back hauled in an interception and saw nothing but 61 yards of green grass – and that light that may not solve, but would soothe the pain.

“It was crazy. I just didn’t know. I thought I dropped (the ball),” Dallas said. “(Today) was pretty tough. We just came out and tried to get a W.”

Dallas found the end zone and sealed an emotional 35-21 victory against the Vikings to keep the Yellow Jackets’ hopes of a District 1-5A championship alive.

Friday offered a unique situation for Byrd head coach Mike Suggs, who had to fire up a team that suddenly learned it may play just one more game – next week’s showdown with Evangel (8-1, 5-0), the district’s leader.

Friday, after days of speculation and wild rumors, the LHSAA officially declared the entire Byrd athletic department ineligible for the postseason pending Wednesday’s appeal and a more specific ruling.

The infraction stems from allowing athletes to have two athletic/PE periods.

“The district had a statement and they are going to take care of it for now,” Suggs said. “In this profession, you’re always going to have something – I’ve never had anything like this – to deal with.

“The kids are fighters. It’s a tough day, but we’re going to get through it one way or another.”

Like Dallas, Friday’s may have featured the penultimate game of Byrd quarterback Deuce Caston’s carrer. He talked about the roller coaster of emotions on campus Friday afternoon as the Yellow Jackets (8-1, 4-1 in District 1-5A) attempted to regain focus amid a swarm of distractions.

“It was a fight,” Caston said. “It was hard going through the day. Coaches came in about seventh hour, brought us in the weight room and talked to us. It really cooled everything down. We were fired up.

“I calmed those (offensive) guys down, because they were emotional.”

Said Suggs: “We just talked about a ball game. They have a job to do and everything else is up to other people.”

Airline (7-2, 3-2), led by a stellar performance from quarterback Thomas McKain, gave the Yellow Jackets all they could handle.

The aggressive Vikings never punted and provided a relentless, balanced attack. They ran 74 plays for 468 yards to Byrd’s 374 yards on just 38 plays.

After running back Shun’Cee Thomas rambled 80 yards for a touchdown with 7:40 left in the fourth quarter, McKain found Cameron Howell for a 2-point conversion to tie Byrd at 21.

McKain hit seven different receivers and finished the game 19-of-32 for 223 yards, but an apparent miscommunication left Dallas as the only one with an opportunity to catch his late throw on the right sideline.

Thomas garnered 156 yards (111 rushing) for the Vikings.

Caston proved Byrd can throw the ball if needed, too. He was a perfect 6-for-6 for 137 yards. Every completion chewed up at least 10 yards.

“I want to thank my receivers and my offensive line played a major part,” Caston said. “We’ve been working all week on passing and we showed it off.”

Byrd senior Joey Jernigan hauled in a 42-yard touchdown from Caston to open the scoring and added a 77-yard rushing touchdown. However, Jernigan’s best play of the night may have been his recovery following a fumbled snap on a punt in the end zone late in the third quarter.

Jernigan avoided a mass of pursuers to avoid a safety and then scampered out to the 26-yard line. An Airline personal foul on the play gave the Yellow Jackets a first down.

Byrd now must press forward into the unknown. No matter what is handed down by the LHSAA on Wednesday, it appears the regular season will be unaffected. Therefore, the Thursday night showdown against the Eagles at Lee Hedges Stadium will have plenty on the line either way.

“We’re playing for a district championship, you know?” Caston said. “If they take it away from us, it’s whatever.”

Twitter: @RoyLangIII

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