ATLANTA — The day was one of the most significant of Steve Ensminger’s life, at once unspeakably tragic and elating, requiring the LSU offensive coordinator to be both coach and dad before and after a College Football Playoff semifinal game Saturday afternoon.

Early in the day, Coach Ed Orgeron had told Ensminger that his daughter-in-law was one of five people killed in the crash of a small plane bound for Atlanta, where the Tigers defeated Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl. Carley McCord, 30, was a New Orleans-based freelance sports reporter who had worked for ESPN, among other outlets. Orgeron said there was no hesitation from Ensminger about still coaching in the game, but first, he had to be a dad.

Steven Ensminger Jr., McCord’s husband, had been hospitalized after being told of the crash. A chemical operator at a nitrogen facility on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, he could not take off for the game because of a company policy prohibiting vacations after Dec. 22, according to Sports Illustrated. In a text exchange with Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellinger, he described what his father told him in those moments before kickoff.

“I had talked to my mom crying and couldn’t get out words and same with my cousin who was my best man in our wedding,” he told SI. “The one voice that got on the phone with me that was clear and strong and supportive and confident while I was laying in that bed was my dad right before he walked out for warm-ups.

“I could barely speak. I couldn’t hold myself together and he said, ‘Son, you will get through this, it’s what we do. We face the darkest times in our lives and it’s what we do, we get through it. And I will take care of you and I’ll be there for you to keep you strong. You’re my one and only son, and my namesake and I love you and I can promise you we will get through this.’”

The younger Ensminger was at work without his phone when McCord called him twice before the plane took off.

“I don’t have my phone and she sends me a message saying she loved me,” Steven told SI. “I was in and out of a nightmare, not being able to tell what was real and what wasn’t. I can remember laying in the hospital bed repeating myself saying it wasn’t real and then one of the hardest things I’m dealing with is that I missed her text and I missed her call. It is by far the most pain, angst and terror and just darkest time of my life and I honestly don’t know how long it will last because I still don’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it.”

Orgeron learned the news about 12:30 p.m., and delivered the news to the elder Ensminger. “I told him what happened and here’s what he said, ‘Coach, we’re gonna get through this,’" Orgeron told reporters after the game. “And, obviously, he was distraught, but he called a great game today. So just goes to show you the integrity and the grit and the character of the men on our football team.”

About 50 minutes before kickoff, the offensive coordinator came onto the field with LSU’s quarterbacks and centers. He wiped his eyes a few times as he watched pregame warmups. A few LSU players came over to hug him, but not all, including quarterback Joe Burrow, knew the news until later.

“It says a lot about him and a lot about his character for him to go out there and still call the game and call such a good game,” LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss said after the game. “I’m just so happy we went out there and executed, had one of our best games offensively for him and his family.”

The plane, identified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a two-engine Piper Cheyenne, crashed into the parking lot of a post office a mile west of Lafayette Regional Airport around 9:22 a.m., with witnesses telling KATC-TV that it struck a power line as it tried to make what appeared to be an emergency landing in dense fog. Representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were en route to the crash site.

The plane exploded upon impact and one passenger and three bystanders were taken to a hospital, Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit told reporters. The flight’s only survivor, 37-year-old Stephen Wade Berzas, was in critical condition Saturday night. The others were treated for smoke inhalation. Besides McCord, the fire department identified those killed as pilot Ian Biggs, 51; Robert Crisp II, 59; Gretchen Vincent, 51, and her 15-year-old son, Michael.

Gretchen Vincent, according to SI, had offered a seat on the plane to McCord, who had no way to get to Atlanta because her plans to drive to Atlanta with her husband fell through because of his job. McCord, 30, covered the New Orleans Pelicans, the New Orleans Saints and other sports. She also worked as a sports reporter for New Orleans television station WDSU.

“We are devastated by the loss of such an amazing talent and valued member of our WDSU family,” WDSU president and general manager Joel Vilmenay said in a statement. “Carley’s passion for sports journalism and her deep knowledge of Louisiana sports, from high school to the professional ranks, made her an exceptional journalist. As we reflect on her impressive body of work, we offer our deepest condolences to her family.”

McCord was born and raised in Baton Rouge, according to a biography on her personal website. She studied at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., and LSU before she got her first broadcast job as an in-house reporter for the Cleveland Browns. She also worked for CBS Radio Cleveland.

Two years later, McCord moved home to Baton Rouge and worked as a radio host for Guaranty Media for three years before she decided to pursue sports television full time. In addition to her freelance reporting, McCord did advertising work for several businesses, spoke at schools and conferences and hosted fundraisers.

The Pelicans and Saints said in a joint statement that McCord’s “infectious personality and knowledge of both teams” entertained fans. “Not only was Carley an excellent representative of the Saints and Pelicans organizations, she was also a highly respected member of the media covering sports … with utmost professionalism,” the teams wrote.

Washington Redskins running back Derrius Guice, a former LSU player and Baton Rouge native, shared a photo of McCord conducting an on-field interview.

“Such a sweet soul,” he wrote, adding a broken-heart emoji. “you’ll be missed Carley”

Hannah Knowles contributed to this report.

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