Road to the Dome: LHSAA Class 3A Quarterfinals Preview
by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen
24 teams are down and there are 8 more teams left to go. All 8 teams have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they all have one goal in mind. That 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 3A public division quarterfinal playoff matchups.
#1 Sterlington Panthers (12-0) vs. #8 Richwood Rams (9-3).
Game Preview: The Sterlington Panthers moved up to Class 3A after winning the Class 2A state championship game a year ago, but it seemed that there was no change for the Panthers with the move up as the Panthers had another undefeated season as well as the #1 seed in the Class 3A bracket. Even though the Sterlington Panthers won 63-20 in their opening matchup against Baker, they do realize that if they want to continue defending a state championship title, they must execute better down the stretch. This is a football team that knows what it takes to win a state championship and the team does return a lot of players such as QB Carson Clowers, LB Dawson Snell, who has led the team in tackles for two seasons in a row, TE/DE Brooks Rushworth, who is the team’s top receiver, OL Whiff Buffington, DE/LB Tanner Coley, and LB Chase Carter, the team also had to undergo a new coaching change as Jason Thompson stepped down as the Panthers head football coach before the season, but luckily, the Panthers were able to get a veteran head coach in Lee Doty, who led the St. Mary’s Tigers to a Division IV state championship appearance in 2015. Like in last year’s run, the Panthers may not beat you with their dominating athletic ability, but will beat you with their leadership, depth, and execution. Their second round matchup was a tough draw for the Panthers as they had to play a very talented Donaldsonville football team that has plenty of DI players on the line such as DE/MLB Tahj Brown (Houston commit) and DT Davon Wright (Tulane commit) as well as plenty of skill players, but the Sterlington Panthers controlled the game on offense rushing for over 250 yards of offense having success running the football. Clowers had a very efficient night throwing the football when he needed to as he had just as many incompletions as touchdown passes with two. The Panthers defense did a really good job of containing the Tigers’ skill position players by only giving up 171 passing yards and 18 points. The defense was led by Snell, who had a great night racking up 14 tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception. The Panthers started off strong jumping out to a 28-6 lead clinching the win in the end at 28-18. The Sterlington Panthers have now won their 21st straight football game and will advance to the Class 3A quarterfinals. The Richwood Rams, led by Robert Arvie, have endured two close playoff games to advance to this point. In the first round of the playoffs, the Rams held on late to defeat North Vermilion 20-17. In the second playoff game, the Rams trailed the Loranger Wolves 14-12 at the half, but the defense was able to shut down the Loranger offense in the second half as well as get a score and two point conversion to prevail 20-12 to get to the quarterfinals. The Rams and the Panthers are two very familiar opponents as the two teams faced each other earlier in the regular season. It was a very close game as the Panthers were able to pull out the 28-21 victory. The Richwood Rams may have a lot of motivation to get the upset as they want to get revenge for their loss earlier in the season. One thing that the Rams have going for them is their size and athleticism. The Rams have two DI commits already in WR Hidari Caesar (TCU commit) and TE Geor’Quarius Spivey (Mississippi State commit). They also have some serious size as both lines average over 300 pounds including guys like DT Quanderrius Johnson, DE Jarviar Wade, OT Jabari Danzie, and others just to name a few. However, what Sterlington does best is that they always seem to beat teams that are bigger and are better athletes. It should be very interesting how Sterlington deals with Richwood’s size and athleticism, but they have done so in the past with Richwood, Donaldsonville, and even Madison Prep in last year’s state championship game.
Lee’s Take: “You know. It’s crazy that is is a public school versus another public school. However, Sterlington is like a private school. These are two teams that are both from the Monroe area and are very familiar with one another. They don’t play each other quite as often and are very different from one another. Richwood is very big and athletic while Sterlington is a grind and pound team that is tough. However, Sterlington was able to beat a huge Madison Prep team that was over 60 pounds heavier per lineman. Richwood is the shocker of the 3A bracket and Coach Arvie has done a great job. I am actually going to take the upset in this game because teams fear Sterlington as Sterlington has a good system. However, Richwood has the manpower to beat them.”
#4 St. James Wildcats (9-3) vs. #5 Kaplan Pirates (10-2)
Game Preview: The St. James Wildcats, led by Robert Valdez, had their big moments and low moments this season, but there is no doubt about it that they are playing their best football right now in the postseason. In their first two playoff matchups, they were able to shut out both the Marksville Tigers and the Madison Prep Chargers with a combined score of 89-0 in both games. The Wildcats have one of the most talented teams out there as they can put up a lot of points whether it is Demarcus Williams or Shamar Smith at quarterback. They can run the football with Dontaz Sterling at running back and they have themselves a dominant defense that is led by the team’s star player Shawn Preston (Mississippi State commit), who can play either defensive back or wide receiver, but he is not the only defensive player that has had an impact on the defensive side of the football. Teammates SS Rashod Pierre and CB Glenn Brown make this one of the best secondaries in the state. Not only are they fast and athletic, but they are big up front with the likes of OT Bryant Grows, OT Donald Nelson, DE Kyren Harris, DT Jason Thomas, and DT Chase Thomas, who are all over 255 pounds. If you also add the fact that this is a highly motivated team that lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, you definitely have yourselves a recipe for success. The Kaplan Pirates, led by Stephen Lotief, are looking to ruin that recipe. They may not have all the big time athletes that the Wildcats have, but this is a well coached football team that knows how to play the game of football. They also have the formula to go far in the playoffs, which is run the football and play good defense. On offense, the Pirates have a five headed monster in their Wing-T attack that can all run the football in Mac Thibeaux, FB Braylon Romero, RB Logan Roy, RB Matt Roden, and QB Trae Case. The Pirates do have a big time player in junior tight end Quintlan Cobb, who is 6-4, 270. The Pirates won their first two games in dominant fashion winning their first round game against KIPP Renaissance 35-7 and defeating the Iota Bulldogs 45-18 last week. The St. James Wildcats better should be prepared against the Pirates’ Wing-T offense, which is tough to defend and will try to shorten the game with long drives. As long as St. James moves the ball offensively and not let the Kaplan offense control the clock, the Wildcats should be able to advance.
Lee’s Take: “This game features two of the best coaches in the state in Robert Valdez and Stephen Lotief. Kaplan is one of the toughest football teams that you will see play. St. James is loaded with skill talent as Demarcus Williams and Shamar Smith have taken over for Lowell Narcisse (LSU) and they also have Shawn Preston who is one of the best hitters in the state. This game might be one of the most physical games that you see. The only reason I am taking St. James is that the game is at St. James. If the game was at Kaplan, I would actually take Kaplan. Kaplan does not have many talented players, but man, they are so tough.”
#6 West Feliciana Saints (11-1) vs. #14 Northwest Raiders (9-3)
Game Preview: The West Feliciana Saints, under Robb Odom, started their postseason run hungry for a state championship after falling so close in the last couple of seasons. The dynamic trio of Derek Turner, Davon Harris (Louisiana Tech commit), and Derius Davis (TCU commit) are one of the best trios in the entire state. They all can run a 4.40/40 and are explosive with the ball in their hands. Not only does this team have speed, but they are big up front with guys such as Jakob Fudge (6-3, 275) and OG/DL Zakk McKeehan. The Saints have had two dominant playoff victories in their first two games defeating North Webster 42-13 and Berwick 38-12. The Saints’ trio had explosive plays in those two games while the defense was able to prevent North Webster’s TJ Hawthorne and Berwick’s Kenan Jones (LSU commit) from having huge productive games. This is a team that can beat you with speed, athleticism, and their size. This is one of the best football teams in the state and when they get going, it is hard to stop them. However, this has been the part of the season that has given the Saints fits in the past. The Northwest Raiders, led by Chris Edwards, are the Cinderella team in the Class 3A bracket as they are the lowest seed still in the playoffs for Class 3A. Even though they are a low seed, this is still a team not to overlook as they were able to defeat Avoyelles 40-28 in their first round matchup and an upset minded Westlake team that defeated #3 seed Jena in the first round 27-20 with a 31-21 victory. The Raiders have some good players of their own in QB Montaze Sam, RB Keshawn Jackson, who happens to also play on the defensive line, and WR August Pitre, who is one of the best receivers in the 5-3A district. This is a solid football team that can give the Saints fits if they don’t give their 100% effort. This upcoming game between the Saints and the Raiders is a rematch of the quarterfinal game last year when the Saints were able to dominate the Raiders 50-15. The Saints are looking for a similar game in order to advance to the semi-finals while the Raiders are looking to avenge that loss and continue their Cinderella run.
Lee’s Take: “I still have West Feliciana going to the Superdome. They are going to have to earn it against Northwest. Northwest has a lot of junior talent. They have ten players that can play college ball next season. Their 2019 class is loaded with I-AA and D-II guys and even some D-I guys. People don’t realize that Northwest has a lot of talent if you don’t know much about them, but West Feliciana is on a mission and I can’t see them being denied from going to the Dome.”
#10 Jennings Bulldogs (10-2) vs. #18 Crowley Gents (8-4)
Game Preview: The Jennings Bulldogs, led by Rusty Phelps, may have lost their star running back Travis Etienne (Clemson), but it seems that the Bulldogs have a better overall football team this year. The Bulldogs won their first two playoff games against Bogalusa and Church Point to get in this position. The Bulldogs are a very balanced football team that has a 1,000 yard rusher in Darrian Achane, a very talented quarterback in Kole Mayers, great skill players that play on both sides of the football in WR/CB Keuante Riggs and WR/CB Darian Madden, and a veteran offensive line that does not get enough credit for the great job that they do. Defensively, the Bulldogs are really underrated with a great front seven led by Brent Meche and Gavin McZeal. This is a well coached football team that does not have a glaring weakness. The Crowley Gents, led by Jephta Hall, had to come from behind to win their first two playoff games. In both games, the Gents suffered 12-0 deficits early in the football game, but they showed how of a resilient group they are by coming back and defeating two higher seeds in #15 Albany and #2 Iowa. In the Albany game, they had heroic efforts from running backs Donald Francis and Keith Wilson, who both combined for 150 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In the passing game, QB Marquis Garrett was able to hook up with his tight end Rapheus Joseph pretty often for four receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown. The offense was able to help put the Gents up top even though the defense had trouble stopping the Albany running game of Brad Lewis and Kamryn Mayers, who combined to run for 400 yards. The Gents got the victory 38-26. In the second round, the Gents had to face the undefeated and #2 seed Iowa Yellow Jackets. Once again, the Gents trailed 12-0 and it looked like Iowa was going to cruise in this game until Garrett, Francis, Wilson, Joseph, and WR Chris Lewis were able to make big plays in the second half to complete the comeback and win the football game 24-15 to advance to the quarterfinals. The biggest key for the Jennings Bulldogs is how they will play in the first half. The Crowley Gents is a second half team that can overcome slow starts and deficits so it is very important for Jennings to jump off to a hot start and keep it there in the second half because if it is a close game, then, the Gents can grab the game for the taking.
Lee’s Take: “This is not fair as Crowley is not far from Jennings maybe 30 miles. Crowley is very talented and people are sleeping on them. Crowley is a good football team and has a big time player in linebacker Desmond Harmon as well as a great receiving core. Meanwhile, Jennings returns their whole team from last year besides Travis Etienne. What is crazy is that everybody thought that last year was Jennings’ best football team, but this year’s team may go to the Superdome without Etienne. I am only going to have to go with Jennings in this football game because it is at Jennings. If it was at Crowley, I would go with Crowley.”
Jace’s Final Take: “Before the playoff games started, I picked a West Feliciana-Sterlington matchup in the Superdome and I am sticking with it. I think West Feliciana has a complete team and they have the motivation to get to the Superdome while Sterlington has been there before and knows what it takes to beat these teams that overmatch the Panthers in talent and size. As for the matchups this week, I believe that Sterlington, St. James, West Feliciana, and Jennings will advance to the semi-finals. We will see what occurs as the Road to the Dome continues tonight!
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