ARITON — Everyone else was playing in mud and Ariton’s Bryan Smith looked like he was playing on a track.
Smith rushed for three touchdowns in the first half and helped the Purple Cats defeat LaFayette 30-12 in a Class 2A playoff game.
Ariton (10-2) advances to the third round of the Class 2A state playoffs. The Purple Cats, champions of Region 2, next week will visit Leroy, which defeated Goshen Friday night. LaFayette, runner-up in Region 4, ended its season at 6-5.
Smith scored touchdown runs of 4, 3 and 8 yards as Ariton built a 23-6 halftime lead on a cold, wet, sloppy night.
The Purple Cats scored first late in the opening quarter. A big 64-yard completion from quarterback Maddux Herring to receiver Hayes Floyd, who juggled the long post pass and gathered it in, gave Ariton a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. On third down from the 4, Smith went toward right end, but saw a crease and cut back inside for the touchdown.
LaFayette then jumped offsides before the PAT kick, and Ariton coach Steven Kilcrease sent the offense back on the field to capitalize on the mistake. Smith took a direct snap off right guard for the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Lafayette got on the board when quarterback Jordan Walker took a keeper toward the right side, then cut back left, made it to the left sideline and simply outran everybody to the end zone on a 78-yard touchdown run. He dropped the snap on the two-point try, leaving Ariton ahead 8-6 with 11:25 left in the first half.
The Purple Cats opened some breathing room in the final five minutes of the second quarter.
Herring picked up a big first down with a 12-yard run on third-and-10. Two plays later, the quarterback hit Cade Webb on a nice fade pass up the left sideline for 36 yards and a first down at the 3. On the next play, Smith scored off right guard on a 3-yard run.
LaFayette again jumped on the PAT, and again Ariton moved the kicking team off the field. Smith again took a direct snap and scored the two-point play that gave the Purple Cats a 16-6 lead with 3:30 on the clock.
It wasn’t over. Ariton recovered a lateral pass to the right flat at the LaFayette 18 with 2:35 remaining. Smith capitalized on an 8-yard touchdown run that started at right end before he again cut up sharply and scored with 1:25 on the clock. Jared Romero’s PAT sent the Cats into halftime with a 23-6 lead.
To be fair, Smith’s production was “economical.” He gained only 23 yards on 11 carries in the first half, but still had the three TDs.
Ariton then suffered through 25 painful seconds that brought the Bulldogs back into the game.
Xavier Holloway returned the second-half kickoff nearly for a touchdown before he went down at the 2. After an illegal substitution penalty backed the Bulldogs to the 7, Keandrae Peterson ran up the middle and scored standing up. His two-point carry was stopped short, leaving Ariton ahead 23-12.
The Purple Cats then muffed the second-half kickoff and LaFayette recovered on Ariton’s 26. Walker and Peterson rushed for gains that gave the Bulldogs a first down at the 14. But an illegal procedure penalty, an incomplete pass and a nice tackle by Ariton’s Zach Ward on a jet sweep to Peterson on fourth down produced a six-yard loss.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the visitors allowed Ariton to start the next drive at its own 36. That’s when the Purple Cats ground game, led by Blake Carroll, took over the game.
Carroll carried five times for 39 yards on an eight-play drive for the Purple Cats. Fullback Zach Phillips finished the march on a four-yard touchdown run.
Romero’s kick put Ariton ahead 30-12 with 5:05 remaining in the third quarter.
The score stayed right there the rest of the way as field conditions deteriorated and the rain continued for most of the second half.