Road to the Dome: LHSAA Division II Semifinals Preview
by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen
12 teams are down and there are 4 more teams left to go. All four 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 Division II semifinal matchups.
#1 De La Salle Cavaliers (10-0) vs. #4 St. Thomas More Cougars (10-1)
Team Preview: Regardless of classification, the De La Salle Cavaliers, led by Ryan Manale, are considered as one of the best teams in all of Louisiana, and who would argue against that by the way they have been playing. With wins against Edna Karr, St. Charles Catholic, St. James, Riverside Academy, St. Augustine, Donaldsonville, and plenty more, it is safe to say that the De La Salle Cavaliers deserve the number one seed in the Division II playoffs. Their star quarterback is Julien Gums, who is really a bruising running back at 5-11, 225 as the offense does like to run the quarterback power play with Gums in the offense. When they do throw it, they have excellent receivers in BJ Randle, Aaron Marquez, and Ahmad Munoz. In the trenches, they are really strong with DT Jamiran James, who is a Tulane commit, his brother OT/DT Jeremiah James, OT Donte Lewis, OG Walter Johnson, and center Nick Guthrie. There is also DE Accord Green, who is 6-2, 230, and the nephew of former LSU DE Jarvis Green. SS Lance Robinson makes up a great secondary. There is not a glaring weakness on this football team and as long as they play their style of play, nobody is going to beat this team. The De La Salle Cavaliers looked like the dominant team that we have seen all season long in their second round matchup against Archbishop Hannan winning 52-14 thanks to four rushing touchdowns from Kendall Collins and over 390 team rushing yards in the victory. The Cavaliers are looking to go and play in the Superdome for the first time in school history as the team was one game short last season. They will have to go through the defending state champions in order to get there. The St. Thomas More Cougars, led by legendary head coach Jim Hightower, are trying to defend a state championship for the first time in school history after their Division II state championship victory in 2016. Offensively, the Cougars rotate two good quarterbacks in Peyton Landry and Scott Holstein. The short quick passing attack has always been very efficient at St. Thomas More, but the Cougars now have the ability to run the football with RB Chris Primeaux, who is one of the most underrated running backs in the entire state, and with a big offensive line that is led by OT Grant Young and OG Jonathan Harding. Even though the Cougars are known for their offense, it has been the defense that has been most impressive this season posting three shutouts most notably against Plaquemine High School and not giving up more than 20 points this season. The Cougars have a great defensive line led by the tandem of DE Brandon Gannon and DT Sam Greenwood. The Cougars are also great against the pass as FS Cade Broussard and CB Jude Joseph have been great in the secondary. After defeating St. Michaels 48-9, the Cougars had to go through the team that they had to battle for the Division II state championship the last two years in the Parkview Baptist Eagles. After a great start by the St. Thomas More Cougars’ defense forcing five fumbles and recovering two. The QB tandem of Landry and Holstein had a great first half as well as Chris Primeaux having big runs, but in the second half, the Eagles’ running attack was able to put Parkview back in the game. However, it was too much to overcome as the Cougars were able to run the clock out and get the 31-29 victory to make it two straight wins in a series between two big time football programs in the state. The Cougars are now one game from going to the Superdome for the third straight season, but will have to face arguably the best football program in the state in the De La Salle Cavaliers. These are two contrasting offenses as St. Thomas More likes to throw the football quickly while De La Salle likes to use their power running game especially with their quarterback.
Lee’s Take: “De La Salle is unstoppable when they are executing, running the football, and playing good defense. They don’t heavily rely on the pass and when you don’t rely on the pass in high school, you are going to win state championships like John Curtis and Notre Dame. St. Thomas More will give De La Salle a game, but I don’t think the Cougar defense will stop the powerful running game of Julien Gums and their running back Kendall Collins or score enough points on them, but I am really shocked that St. Thomas More is at this point without their quarterback from last year in Nate Cox (Louisiana Tech) and without Griffin Hebert (Louisiana Tech). Coach Hightower has done a great coaching job with a young team. The Cougars will have one of their best teams next season. I predict it will be a closer game than people think with De La Salle winning the football game by two scores.”
#2 University Lab High School Cubs (11-0) vs. #3 St. Charles Catholic Comets (9-2)
Team Preview: It looks like De La Salle and University Lab will be on a collision course to the Superdome, but they still have to go through a couple of tough football teams. However, the way that the Cubs, led by Chad Mahaffey, are playing, nobody wants to play the U-High Cubs. The Cubs have one of the top offenses in the entire state regardless of classification. John Gordon McKernan has done everything that the coaches have asked him to do and is doing a great job of efficiently running the offense. The Cubs have one of the best running backs in the Baton Rouge area in Mike Rollins, who is a powerful runner and a touchdown machine. The junior running back had an incredible 26 rushing touchdowns in the regular season. In the passing game, McKernan will look for wideouts such as Christian Harris and Grant Bonnette, who is the son of LSU SID Michael Bonnette. Up front on the offensive line, the Cubs are strong with guys such as Dylann Rathcke, Ethan Macloud, and Zach Gremillion. The defense has also been very good and will be led by a great front seven that features MLB Bryton Constantin, who is almost 230 pounds, OLB Dallas Wright, DT Donald Berniard, LB Leland Jones, and so much more. Also, don’t forget the Special Teams unit that features Bonnette at punter and Aidan Gale at kicker. Like De La Salle, this is a team that does not have a glaring weakness. The last time, the Cubs had an undefeated regular season, they went on to win the state championship. After a bye, the University Lab Cubs did not allow any chance for a Teurlings Catholic upset in the quarterfinals pummeling the Rebels 35-9. Like much of the season, the Cubs relied on their big offensive line and Michael Hollins, who ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns while McKernan did have a very accurate day completing 19 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. The U-High defense shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the Lafayette area in Wesley Blazek, who completed less than 50% of his passes and threw three interceptions. Those were all key factors in their dominant win and even though, the Cubs are looking to punch their ticked to the Superdome, remember the famous Lee Corso catch phrase “Not so fast” as the Cubs will have to play one of the most consistent programs around in the St. Charles Catholic Comets. What we all know is that to never count out Frank Monica in any game. The legendary head coach seems to beat teams that are much more talented and deep than the Comets, but it is going to be really hard to prepare more than this team. The Comets have had a lot of injury problems including missing their versatile quarterback Lloyd Nash and OLB Dellary Oubre, but the good news is that the Comets just got back their quarterback last week in a win against St. James. When Nash is at the quarterback position, this team is a much different team. The Nicholls State commit is one of the best athletes Coach Monica has ever coaches and that is saying a lot. The offense has two tough runners in Phillip Tran and Narquez Jones. The offensive line is also a very experienced unit. Even though the Comet defense lost their best player in Oubre, the unit still has some great leadership on that side of the football with guys such as LB Gavin St. Pierre, DT Mason Narcisse, DT DeAndre Keller, and CB Trey Joseph. The team is coming off a dominant victory over St. Louis 42-10 in the quarterfinals. The Comets made it to the Division III state championship last year by beating an overmatched Notre Dame team in the semi-finals. The question is if Coach Monica and gang can do it again against an overmatched De La Salle football team to get back to the Superdome for the second year in a row.
Lee’s Take: “U-High fans better not punch their ticket to the Superdome just yet because the coach that can just beat you on coaching only is Frank Monica. His quarterback Lloyd Nash is finally healthy and they got a big offensive line. Their defense is also getting healthy. The Comets are going to do two things, which is run the ball to play keepaway and play good defense. They are going to take away anything deep for U-High and they are going to hope that you go deep. What does U-High like to do a lot, that is go deep. The Cubs have a great running back in Michael Hollins, but St. Charles has seen all the great running backs in the state. To beat St. Charles, you better complete passes underneath and move the chains because if you have three and outs, the Comets will run the clock. All those U-High receivers are great players, but they can’t win this game if they don’t get the ball a lot. This is going to be a very nerve racking game. I am going to take U-High barely in a last minute drive to take the victory.”
Jace’s Final Thoughts: “It is most likely going to be a #1 vs. #2 seed state championship game with De La Salle against University Lab, but don’t pencil the state championship game in stone yet as both of those programs will have to face great football programs as well as two legendary coaches in Jim Hightower and Frank Monica. However, I still think that University Lab and De La Salle are too good to fall even though both teams will be tested. We will see if the matchups we promised for comes true as the Road to the Dome continues.
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