Road to the Dome: LHSAA Division III First Round Preview
by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen
This week starts arguably the best time of the year for Louisiana High School Football as even though the regular season has ended, a new season has arrived and that is the playoffs. The playoffs are always unique in the sense that is unlike the regular season as you lose, there is another week to play. In the playoffs, there is no tomorrow because if you lose, you go home. Through all the classifications and all of the teams in the playoffs, there is one goal and mind and 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. 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 2A private division, which is Division III.
Division III: (Note: All higher seeds hosts playoff game at home)
#1 Notre Dame Pioneers (9-0) have a bye this week.
Team Preview: Once again, the Notre Dame Pioneers enter the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the state championship. With a Hall of Fame Coach like Lewis Cook, who has won over 300 games and four state championships, there is no counting out the Pios. The team is the number one seed in the bracket due to their perfect 9-0 regular season finish. The Pioneers are always a well coached football team that always has solid football players. The Pioneers had a lot of new starters, but at the same time, all these players had valuable playing time even when they where not starting. Besides being well coached, the Pioneers have a couple of advantages including a lot of depth at the skill positions which include RB Collin Kirsch, who runs with power and speed, WR Gentry Borill, WR Zac Miller, and Cameron Nelson. The defense has also been very dominant besides giving up almost 40 points to Kinder in a 38-37 win. Besides that game, the Pioneers have only given up 40 points the entire season. The team also has very strong special teams play. This could be another season in which the Pioneers book their ticket to the Superdome. They also have the luxury of having a first round bye. They will face the winner of the Episcopal and Country Day game.
#2 Isidore Newman Greenies (10-0) have a bye this week.
Team Preview: The Isidore Newman Greenies have had their best season in recent memory with a 10-0 regular season finish and a district championship. Nelson Stewart has done a fantastic job during his tenure coaching the Greenies and this year is no exception. Even though they lose a great quarterback in Miles Lapeyre, who started three years for the Greenies, the offense did not skip a beat with Martin Butcher under the center who threw for 2,447 yards and 23 touchdowns. Butcher has the luxury of throwing to a really talented receiving core in Murray Calhoun, Dylon Hill, Storey Charbonnet, Sam Moses, and Jarmone Sutherland. However, it is not just a passing attack as the Greenies can run the football with one of the best running backs in the New Orleans area in James Poche, who ran for an incredible 22 touchdowns this season. The defense has also improved giving up thirty or more points once all season. Even with all of the legendary players in the past such as the Manning brothers and Odell Beckham, this could end up being the Greenies’ best season yet. The Greenies will get some rest as the team has a bye this week. They will play the winner of the Ascension Episcopal and St. Thomas Aquinas game.
#3 Catholic New Iberia Panthers (9-1) have a bye this week.
Team Preview: The Catholic New Iberia Panthers, under Brent Indest, have one of the most explosive offenses in all of 2A. Coach Indest likes to run the Wing T, but with a great athlete such as Diallo Landry at quarterback. The Panthers have the ability to throw the football when they need to. Landry has always been a great runner and has always had that frame to break through tackles at 6-3, 200 pounds and 4.55 speed, but he has taken the next step as a passer to help the Panthers win the 6-2A district championship. It is not all the Diallo Landry show as RB Jordan Stokes helps take the load off Landry’s shoulders and wideouts Peter Leblanc and Ben Landry give great targets to the senior quarterback on the outside. The defense was the question mark heading into the season as the team lost standout DT Zi’Yon Hill (ULL) to graduation, but the unit has taken great strides in the season shutting out their last three opponents. The Panthers will get a week off and will play the winner of the Calvary Baptist and Holy Savior Menard game next week.
#4 Dunham Tigers (8-1) vs. #13 Pope John Paul II Jaguars (2-8)
Game Preview: It has definitely been a season to remember for Dunham fans as the Tigers have won only their second district championship in the program history. Neil Weiner has definitely helped build a very competitive football program over the last couple of years and now, they have a chance to take another step in the playoffs. The Tigers have two big time recruits that are both being recruited heavily by the LSU Tigers in QB Mike Williams and WR/CB Derek Stingley. The Tigers have utilized Mike Williams in pretty much the same way East Feliciana used Kendell Beckwith (LSU/Tampa Bay Buccaneers) when he was playing quarterback for the Tigers. However, Beckwith was a linebacker and was 6-3, 230 at that time. Mike Williams is projected to be a defensive end at the next level and is 6-3, 270 pounds. Once he gets his momentum going in the run game, nobody is going to tackle him and he also has the ability to throw a beautiful deep ball as well. Stingley will be one of the nation’s best recruits next season as he is only a junior and has the ability to take over a game. If both these guys get going along with a great supporting cast around them, this team will be tough to beat. The Pope John Paul II Jaguars, under Brett Bonnafons, have a tough task ahead for them after finishing the regular season at 2-8. The team has some solid players especially on the defensive side of the football, but it still could be too much to handle for this Jaguars team to keep up.
Lee’s Take: “I got Dunham winning this football game. They just got too much talent for Pope John Paul II to handle.”
#5 Riverside Academy Rebels (3-4) vs. #12 Northlake Christian Wolverines (3-7)
Game Preview: The Riverside Academy Rebels, under first year head coach Chris Lachney, may have only played seven games in the regular season, but those seven games are equivalent to ten games for a lot of teams in regards to the schedule Riverside had to play. The Rebels played tough teams such as Southern Lab, Barbe, Archbishop Rummel, De La Salle, and Newman in the regular season. To achieve even two wins in that type of schedule is amazing nevertheless three. The Rebels are looking to defend their Division III state championship from a year ago and have a lot of their key players back from that season including QB Jordan Loving, who is a DI caliber quarterback, and RB Jeremy Gibson, who is one of the best running backs in the state as he is an Arkansas commit, WR Jared Butler, WR Jalen Banks, LB Jared Hymel, and DB Garland Robertson. The Northlake Christian Wolverines, under Anthony Agresta, are one of the best three win teams in the state. They have an All-State caliber player in Nick Morman, who helps get this team going on the offensive side of the football as an athlete. Morman ran for over, 1200 yards and eight touchdowns. Morman has transitioned nicely at the quarterback position and has a very nice running back to hand the ball off to in Wesley Brown, who runs with a lot of power. This is a team that could play keep away and try to keep Riverside’s offense off the field in this game.
Lee’s Take: “Northlake Christian can pull the upset here. They got a great team and they are well coached. Riverside has had the tougher schedule. I was at the Barbe-Riverside game. If Riverside’s defense can hold up, this could be a 21-17 type of game. There is no guarantee that Riverside is going to beat Northlake, but I am going to go with Riverside at the end in a close one.”
#6 Calvary Baptist Cavaliers (6-4) vs. #11 Holy Savior Menard Eagles (6-4)
Game Preview: The Cavalier Baptist Cavaliers, under first year head coach Rodney Guin, had a slow start at 1-4 in the first half of the regular season, but the team made a great turnaround winning five straight games to close the regular season. The Cavaliers are led by one of the best offensive playmakers in the entire state in Kordavion Washington. Washington ran for a respectable 1,223 yards this season, which is amazingly a season low for Washington. Washington is a type of player that will always give his chance to win when he is on the field because of his explosiveness. QB Cade Hart is a young quarterback that has improved greatly over the course of the season and has a lot of skill players to spread the ball to in Will Derrick and Fredrick “Tank” Williams. The defense has been an improvement and the Cavaliers’ special teams unit is one of the best in the entire state with punter Brian Barber. The Holy Savior Menard Eagles, under first year head coach Chris Gatlin, are a respectable opponent that the Cavaliers should not overlook. They have really good two way football players in RB/DB Roman Armstrong, OL/DL Drake Carroll, WR/DB Ethan Bordelon, and WR/DB Jonathan Viator that will make this a close game.
Lee’s Take: “Calvary Baptist should win this football game. Kordavion Washington could have a big time game with a 200 yard performance in this one.”
#7 Ascension Episcopal Blue Gators (8-2) vs. #10 St. Thomas Aquinas Falcons (8-2)
Game Preview: The Ascension Episcopal Blue Gators, under Matt Desormeaux, have done a great job after moving up from Class 1A to Class 2A. This is a team that knows what it takes to get to the Superdome as they made an appearance in the Division IV state championship where they lost to Southern Lab. The Blue Gators suffered a big blow earlier this season losing their star playmaking quarterback Jake Vascocu for the entire season in a game against North Vermillion. However, the Blue Gators’ freshman quarterback Cole Simon has done a fantastic job in taking over the position. He has had a lot of help from some great skill players such as WR Mac Kelly, RB Leo Franques, and WR Seth Kerstetter as well as some great protection on the offensive line led by OT Mike Remondet. The biggest question is if the Blue Gators can go into the playoffs and be successful without their playmaking senior quarterback. The St. Thomas Aquinas Falcons received some shocking news before the season when program legend John White decided to retire, but first year head coach Hutch Gonzales, has done a great job being put in the position that he has been in. The offense is led by TJ Finley, who is one of the state’s young top quarterbacks, WR Jaylen Jackson, who is Finley’s top receiving option, and TE Dustin Dyson, who has the frame to become a special player at 6-4, 200. Finley and Dyson are only sophomores. The Falcons also has a great leader on the defensive side of the football in Luke Dibenedetto. If this game is close, the Special Teams could be the factor as Will Hetzinger can flip the field as one of the best punters in the state and his brother Adam Hetzinger is a very reliable kicker.
Lee’s Take: “This game is probably going to be close since Jake Vascocu is out. They are not the same without him. I think St. Thomas Aquinas has played the tougher schedule so I am going to take St. Thomas Aquinas in an upset.”
#8 Episcopal Knights (8-2) vs. #9 Metairie Park Country Day Cajuns (6-4)
Game Preview: This game is a rematch from a matchup earlier in the regular season when the Cajuns prevailed over the Knights 31-23. This game will feature two high powered offensive attacks. The Episcopal Knights, led by Travis Bourgeois, were just short of capturing a district championship losing to Dunham on the final week of the regular season. The Knights have a great rushing attack led by Caden Dickinson, who ran for over 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. The option attack has given multiple defenses fits as after the loss to Country Day, the Knights has four straight 50+ point games including an impressive 65 points against a solid Northeast team. The Country Day Cajuns, led by Joe Chango, do most of their damage in the passing game with quarterback Justin Ibeita, who has done a great job replacing a successful quarterback a year ago in Christian Kerut. He has great skill players to give the ball to in WR Price Petagna and WR Kaleb Jenkins. Ibeita’s leading receiver is Petagna but does a great job of evenly distributing the football around. When they need to run the football, they can with Buckner Heebe, who has rushed for 13 touchdowns this season. This game could come down to whoever has the ball last.
Lee’s Take: “Country Day defeated Episcopal in the regular season, and I still think they will get the win here in the playoffs. This game is going to be down to the wire, but I think Country Day’s quarterback Justin Ibeita, who is 6-4, 200, can be the biggest difference in this game.”
Lee’s Final Thoughts: “I think it is going to be Notre Dame playing Newman for all of the marbles. I also see Dunham as a team that could get there and could play spoiler against Notre Dame. Don’t count Mike Williams, Derek Stingley, and those guys out.”
Jace’s Final Thoughts: “I agree with Lee on this one as well. Most likely, there can be a #1 Notre Dame and a #2 Isidore Newman matchup in the Superdome, but I won’t be surprised if Dunham, Riverside Academy, Catholic New Iberia, and Calvary Baptist can get there as well. There are a handful of teams that could be at the Superdome in the end, but we will just have to wait and see as the Road to the Dome begins.”
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