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Oak Grove senior OG John Bolding leads one of the best offensive lines in the state and is now ready for a chance to take on the Kangaroos for a chance to go to the Superdome. (Property of LAFM)

Road to the Dome: LHSAA Class 1A Semifinals Preview

Road to the Dome: LHSAA Class 1A Semifinals Preview

by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen

28 teams are down and there are only four more left to go. Four teams remain standing and all four of these teams have one goal in mind. That goal is to be one of nine teams in the end holding a state championship trophy in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with the Queen smash hit “We Are the Champions” playing in the background. For Louisiana football fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year. It is our version of “March Madness”. This year, we got you covered as for the next couple of weeks, we will go through all of the matchups from 1A all the way to 5A each and every week leading up to the All-State Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic from December 7th-9th. Louisiana Football Magazine’s expert Lee Brecheen has seen all of these teams play and gives his insight on which teams will survive and continue their march to the Superdome. Today, we preview the Class 1A public division semifinal playoff matchups. This week, we will find out which teams will be battling it out for the Class 1A state championship.

Class 1A: 

#1 West St. John Rams (10-2) vs. #5 Logansport Tigers (13-0)

Game Preview: The West St. John Rams are pretty much the favorite to win the 1A state championship this year. Led by Head Coach Brandon Walters, the Rams won the District 8-1A championship with a 10-2 overall record and undefeated record in District play. The team’s only losses came against teams that play in higher classifications such as St. James and Plaquemine. Still, they gave everything that the Wildcats and the Green Devils could handle. The Rams don’t have a lot of weaknesses as they have a dynamic quarterback in D’andre Gaudia, who has thrown for 2,200 yards and 23 touchdowns,  a great rushing attack led by RB Kylan Duhe, who has ran for over 1,600 yards this season, and RB Nico Roy,  great skill players such as WR Aason Moll, WR Alyjah Borne, a big, physical offensive line led by Calieb Batiste, and a dominant defense that is led by LB/DE Covan Barnes, DT Horace Lewis, and LB Kelon Gardner. This is a team that has all the tools to get to the Superdome. So far, the road to get there for the Rams has been smooth after having a bye in the first round. The Rams won their first two playoff games with ease defeating the East Iberville Tigers 44-2 in the second round and the Jonesboro-Hodge Tigers 26-6 in the quarterfinals. The Rams were able to run the football with both of their running backs while the defense was able to make things difficult for Varnado’s great athletes. The only team that is in the way of the West St. John Rams from advancing to the Class 1A state championship for the eight time in school history is the undefeated and reigning Class 1A state champion Logansport Tigers.  The Logansport Tigers are looking to defend their 1A state championship a year ago and continue a winning streak that is currently at 27 straight wins after posting back to back undefeated regular seasons. Kevin Magee has built a dominant program in only his fourth year as the team’s head coach and has taken this team to state championship prowess just when he was playing quarterback for the Tigers’ state championship team in 1995. The Tigers are led by veteran QB Dalton Shaw, who is the all time leading passer in program history passing his head coach, and one of the most underrated big time recruits in the entire state in ATH John Stephens Jr., who is the son of the late John Stephens Sr.,(New England Patriots). Stephens is a TCU commit and can play just about any position for the Tigers including WR, LB, and even DE.  Stephens is not the only versatile athlete on the team as junior Madrid Johnson is an explosive player that can return kicks or punts, play at slot receiver, running back, safety, and even linebacker.  In the Tigers’ first two playoff games, they scored 52 and 48 points respectively against North Central and Homer while the defense shut out both teams to advance to the Class 1A quarterfinals. In the team’s quarterfinal game against the Varnado Wildcats, the defense might have not gotten the shutout giving up 18 points, but the offense was on a roll the entire night racking up 40 points and over 560 yards of offense. Dalton Shaw was able to have a field day against the Varnado defense throwing for over 300 yards and two touchdowns with most of the yardage and both touchdowns going to Stephens and Patrick Mims, who was only playing in his fourth start. These are two of the best teams in Class 1A. West St. John has the size on both the offensive line and defensive line as well as great athletes. It should be interesting how Logansport deals with West St. John’s size and depth for a Class 1A team. If both of Logansports’ offensive and defensive line can compete with the Rams, then, Shaw, Stephens, and company could have a field day. Looking at the 1A bracket, this was the matchup that a lot of people were looking forward to seeing and they finally get it in the semis finals.

Lee’s Take: “It would be pretty incredible if Logansport wins this game because West St. John is really good and has 5A talent. I wouldn’t count Coach Magee and Logansport out, but this is the fastest 1A team that I have seen in a long time. I really believe that West St. John could compete and beat anybody in the state regardless of classification, which is a huge complement to West St. John. ”

#2 Oak Grove Tigers (12-1) vs. #3 Kentwood Kangaroos (12-1)

Game Preview: The Oak Grove Tigers, under Ryan Gregory, haven’t been to the Superdome since 2004, but this might be their year that they go back as they have had a total dominant season going 9-1 and winning a very tough district in 2-1A. The Tigers won the district championship by shutting down one of the best offenses around in Cedar Creek 42-0. The Tigers’ strength is their running game with a young athletic sophomore quarterback in Kameron Holloway, who is going to be a very special player for the Tigers in the next couple of years to come,  two runners that complement each other in RB Donald Gray and FB Wyatt Rawls, and a very experienced offensive line led by John Bolding. The Tigers also have one of the biggest defensive fronts regardless of classification led by another young, but very talented junior in DT Kenean Caldwell, who is 6-3, 290, and will be a very good football player in the future. In speaking of dominance, that was the Tigers have been doing against opponents all season long. Besides their only loss to Sterlington, the Tigers have outscored their opponents 328-105. The Tigers had a great start to the postseason against the Northwood Lena Gators with a 48-0 shutout victory thanks to a stiffening defense and the high powered option attack that has the threat to pass the ball when they need to. In the second round of the playoffs, the Tigers handled the Lincoln Prep Panthers 48-20. In the Tigers’ last game, they were able to dominate a Basile team that was having their best season in a long time with a 34-6 win. The Tigers are a historic program that is used to competing for state championships. If Oak Grove wins their next round matchup, the team will appear in their ninth championship game, but they will have to defeat another powerhouse 1A program in the Kentwood Kangaroos. The Kentwood Kangaroos, under Jonathan Foster, won arguably the toughest district in all of 1A with such other teams like Southern Lab and Ascension Catholic also in that district. The Kangaroos won nine games in the regular season and once again, will be a state championship contender due to the many skill guys that the offense has. Playmakers such as WR Jamarquea Diamond, RB Larry Carter, QB Larenz Morris, and WR Trey Palmer, who has already been offered by LSU as a junior, can score on anybody when they are out in open space. The Kangaroos also have some size in the trenches with OT Eric Dunn, who is 6-6, 250, and OG Justice Ulschak, who is also over 250 pounds. The Kangaroos had no problems in their first round matchup against the Tensas Panthers rolling to a 37-0 victory. It was more of the same for the Kentwood Kangaroos as they rolled against the Merryville Panthers 40-14, but in the very next round, the Kangaroos had to play one of the most successful football programs in the Haynesville Golden Tornadoes that have won 17 state championships and are looking for their sixth straight state championship appearance. This game was actually a rematch of the 2015 1A state championship game which was dominated by Kentwood 40-7. The Golden Tornadoes showed that they remembered that game very clearly early on as the Tornadoes jumped up to an early 10-0 lead, but in the second half, Palmer was able to get a couple of interceptions on defense giving the Kangaroos great field advantage. The Kangaroos were able to take advantage and score 14 unanswered points to win 14-10. Out of the four teams still remaining, the Kangaroos are the only team to be tested in the playoffs, which could come to help them in their semifinal matchup against the Oak Grove Tigers.

Lee’s Take: “I got a chance to watch Oak Grove play Calvary Baptist and Oak Grove is gigantic. Their defensive line is like a SEC defensive line. The Tigers have two underclassmen that LSU and Alabama will offer. Their defense is really good and their quarterback Kameron Holloway is going to be the next KaVontae Turpin (Neville/TCU) and may be even better. Everybody thinks Kentwood is going to win and that it is going to be easy, but I think Oak Grove is going to beat them this time. Remember, Kentwood beat Oak Grove last time to go to the Superdome in 2015. This is a revenge game and I think it will be won in the trenches with Oak Grove’s offensive line that is very big and athletic. They also have the X-factor in their quarterback who is going to be an All-American type of player. I got Oak Grove tow in the football game.”

 

Jace’s Final Thoughts: It is not surprising to me that these are the four remaining teams in the Class 1A bracket. These are the best four teams in the entire bracket and we should be getting two great matchups that feature four of the most dominating programs throughout the course of the season. Before the playoff games started, I picked a West St. John-Kentwood matchup in the Superdome and I am sticking with that pick. West St. John may be the most complete team in the entire bracket and I think that the Rams will be too much for the Tigers to handle even though I think Logansport will take this game in the fourth quarter, but that is when the Rams pull away. For the other matchup, this will be a close game as Oak Grove will use their size to their advantage early in the game, but I think the Kangaroos will adjust as the game goes on. Keep in mind, they had to play an overmatched team in size in Southern Lab and they were able to beat them so they can compete with the Tigers up front. Also, the Kangaroos have too many skill players for Oak Grove to handle. I think it will be a West St. John-Kentwood state championship match, but I won’t be surprised if it goes the other way around.

 

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About Jace LeJeune

Jace is from Addis, LA and is attending Southeastern Louisiana University and majoring in Journalism. He is also a graduate from Catholic High School in Baton Rouge where he was the editor of the school newspaper the “Bearly Published.” While at CHS, Jace also announced their football, basketball, and baseball games for the Bruin Broadcast Network which is the Catholic High’s streaming website for their events. On weekends, Jace is the PA announcer for his middle school football games. At home, Jace enjoys time with his family and friends. Jace is also an avid football and drag racing fan.