Football Forecast: LHSAA Playoffs Third Round
There are still 11 local teams fighting in the LHSAA Playoffs. Somebody is going to bring a state title back to the Acadiana area, and we're all hoping for multiple champions.
The select schools are one game away from the Superdome, and the non-select schools are trying to advance to the semifinal round. If you're practicing on Thanksgiving, it means your season is still alive when most other teams are done playing. The best way to work off all those holiday calories are to strap up the pads.
For this week's Football Forecast, we have a rematch of one of the best games of the entire regular season, a grudge match from last year's playoff bracket, a team trying to reach the Dome for the second straight year and a couple more local squads attempting to earn another week of football in front of their fans. The games only get harder at this point in the year...
The Friday night lights shine brighter in the postseason, but our Players of the Week aren't scared of the spotlight.
Players of the Week: Travis Etienne Jr, Bralen Trahan, Jake Vascocu, Nate Cox
In the postseason, things are supposed to be difficult, but all four of our Players of the Week made it look easy, carrying their team into the next round.
Travis Etienne Jr. won our Twitter poll by a long shot, and he was an absolute monster, as usual.
The first five scores of the game for Jennings were all products of one of the best running backs in the country. Not only did Etienne find the endzone five times, he did it from deep. He had three rushing TD's from 50+ yards out, and he tacked on a 70-yard kick return too. He's a human highlight reel, and if you don't believe me, just watch...
Leave A Legacy... #DontBlink
— Travis Etienne Jr⁶ (@swaggy_t1) October 22, 2016
College coaches and recruiters are drooling over Travis, and can you blame them?
Our next player of the week tried to break the scoreboard. Ascension Episcopal almost hit 60 points in the quarterfinals, and Jake Vascocu was responsible for seven of those scores.
Vascocu launched six passing TD's, including three scores to Ronald Leblanc, and he tacked on another TD with his legs. Remember, Vascocu played safety last year, not quarterback. He adjusted to his new position beautifully, and he's still getting better with the ball in his hands.
The Blue Gators are undefeated and looking to reach the Superdome, and Vascocu's decisions and playmaking have been a huge factor. People questioned whether he would be able to handle the offense before the season started, but he silenced those critics quickly.
The third player of the week is a sign of respect for Acadiana's defense. Bralen Trahan is on a mission, and he's propelling the Wreckin' Rams down their path to the Superdome.
Trahan scored the first three TD's of the game for Acadiana in their huge win over Ponchatoula, including his second pick-six of the postseason. He housed an 80-yard run, returned an interception for a touchdown and then stuffed another rushing TD into the teeth of the defense. He's leading a defense that has 10 takeaways in two games in the playoffs, and he pretty much plays every snap on both sides of the ball, even on special teams.
It's Trahan's senior year, and he doesn't want it to end yet. Another win this week would put the Rams in the semifinals, one step away from the Superdome...
In terms of magical years, it's hard to top what Nate Cox is doing in 2016 for the STM Cougars.
Cox led the state in the regular season with 32 passing TD's, and he tacked on four more scores in the Cougars' first postseason game against E.D. White. If you do the math, that gives him 36 TD's in only 11 games, which is more than three scores per game. With another performance like he had against E.D. White, Cox would hit the 40 TD mark, an absolutely ridiculous total for a high school football season.
Big time performers go a long way in the postseason. All four of the Players of the Week are going to play a huge role again this week, if they want their team to keep playing.
Let's start with Jake Vascocu's matchup, which was one of the best local games played in the entire regular season.
GAME ONE: Ascension Episcopal vs Central Catholic-Morgan City
In Week Ten, the Blue Gators survived a scare from Central Catholic by one point. The Eagles feel like they got robbed by the refs, and they've been taking out their anger on all their postseason opponents ever since in the hopes they got a chance at revenge.
Ascension Episcopal is playing near-perfect football. They finished the regular season undefeated, and they built off that by outscoring their first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 103-42. Their offense is rolling, and they're not making mistakes.
With Vascocu at quarterback and weapons like Ronald Leblanc, Zach Ronquillo, Seth Kerstetter and Leo Franques, the Blue Gators can hurt you in a number of ways. A lot of teams would have a healthy fear of what they can do, but Central Catholic isn't scared of anybody.
The Eagles gave the Blue Gators their toughest test of the season, and playing a team two times in less than a month creates all types of matchup nightmares. There are no surprises now, and Central Catholic understands the beast they're trying to slay.
Central Catholic's Head Coach Tommy Minton said their game plan is simple: make life difficult for Vascocu. The Eagles are going to send waves of pressure on defense, and they attack like a stampede of raging buffaloes when they blitz. On the offensive side of the ball, they're going to try to cram the ball down Ascension Episcopal's throat and beat them up with their offensive line and hope explosive athletes like Samarick Paul can deliver the knockout blow.
The best part of this game? No matter who wins, the Acadiana area will have a team in the Superdome with a chance to win the state title.
Game two is a grudge match two, but this one dates back to the 2015 playoffs.
GAME TWO: Carencro vs Neville
Neville hasn't lost a game since September 13, 2014...but every win streak has to end eventually, right?
Carencro wanted a piece of Neville from the moment they knocked them out of the playoffs last year. When I visited the Bears' practice earlier this season, all their players told me the same thing, "We want to beat Neville and win a state championship."
The Bears have all the talent in the world: Carl Randall, Eric Tolivour, Trey Barnaba, Deion Senegal, the Poullard Twins, Rashaad Harding, Kordell Williams...the list goes on. Neville is big and bad, but Carencro can hang with them.
In terms of size, the Bears have the muscle to compete in the trenches. Kenneth Mouton anchors the offensive line, and they don't call him "Big Ken" as a joke. He's all of 6'7" and 395 lbs, and even though he's one of the nicest kids on the planet, he has a mean edge that comes out when he puts on a helmet. They have big boys on the D-line too, including Jaun Journett, who picked off a pass with one hand and returned it for a touchdown earlier this season.
Pound for pound, they're big enough and athletic enough, so at this point it comes down to who has more heart.
Here's the breakdown on Neville: they haven't allowed a single opponent to score more than 18 points all season long, and last week's game against Ascension was the first time they didn't score over 30 points (even though they pitched a shutout on defense). The Tigers are protecting the longest win streak in the state of Louisiana, and they're not going to give it up easily.
The Bears have 21 seniors on the roster this season. A lot of these guys played together as little boys, grew up together, played middle school ball and when they got to Carencro, this was the year they all dreamed of reaching the Dome. Some dreams come true, and the people of Carencro have their back.
Neville has to travel to the Open Air Cro Dome, and the Bears don't want to let them escape from their cave. Prepare for a war.
GAME THREE: St. Thomas More Cougars vs University Lab Cubs (U-High)
U-High is basically a college preparatory school, situated on LSU's campus. Every year, they put players in the Division-I ranks, including top tier talent like Derrius Guice, Nick Brossette, and countless others over the years. This year is no different, but the Cougars are loaded with talent too.
Nate Cox led the state with 32 passing touchdowns in the regular season, largely due to his deep receiving corps.
The receivers are led by Griffin Hebert, who is going to join Louisiana Tech's air raid offense next season. You can't really afford to double-team Hebert though, unless you want to get hurt by Mason Pesson, Matthew Lagrange, Jean-Luc Leblanc or Matthew Gautreaux. Cox can take his pick on any given play, and he diagnoses defenses quickly and gets the ball out in a hurry.
U-High will attempt to harass Cox all game long, but you can't hit what you can't touch. With his arsenal of weapons to use, his decision making ability and quick release will come in handy. The Cubs might try to confuse him with complex looks, so it will be a chess match on the field.
Both teams have experience in high pressure situations. U-High is in the Superdome almost every year, so the semifinals are basically part of their schedule every year. Last year, the Cougars reached the Dome for the first time in Jim Hightower's long and illustrious coaching career, so now they're familiar with what it takes to get there.
There's an emotional factor at play for STM too. Nobody knows how much longer Coach Hightower intends on staying on the sidelines. He's still searching for his first state championship, and this group of seniors wants to be the class to give him the greatest gift of all, a ring. Hightower's resume is impressive enough to already earn him a spot in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, but a state championship would be the ultimate cherry on top of an incredible coaching career.
This game will be at home for STM, in front of the packed stands at Cougar Stadium. It will be the last time the seniors get to walk down "The Ramp," so they better make it special.
Typically, I only pick three games of the week, but at this point in the season, all the local teams deserve some attention...on to the bonus round.
BONUS: Kaplan vs Jennings, Northwest, Notre Dame, Catholic High, Acadiana
I just wouldn't feel right not shining the spotlight on all the other local teams still fighting in the postseason, but I couldn't fit them all in the Football Forecast video...maybe I should just make a full TV show next year, so I never miss a team.
Let's take each matchup, one-by-one, and boil the games down to some simple takeaways.
Kaplan Pirates vs Jennings Bulldogs
The undefeated Kaplan Pirates will try to contain the Jennings Bulldogs, and their stud running back Travis Etienne Jr. Etienne was the second leading rusher in the state this season, but he might be the most explosive individual athlete in Louisiana. He reverses fields, stops on a dime and makes people look silly almost every play, but he's going up against one of the most disciplined teams to ever put on the pads.
Kaplan's Head Coach Tank Lotief couldn't be prouder of his team this year. They don't commit penalties, make mistakes or turn the ball over. Chew on this stat for a while: the Pirates haven't turned the ball over since Week Two of the regular season...how does that even happen? Not even professional football teams go two and a half months without botching a snap, fumbling the ball or throwing an interception on a tipped ball. Football is a fluky sport, but the Pirates simply don't shoot themselves in the foot, ever.
We will also be broadcasting the game on News Talk 96.5, so you don't have to miss a single play. Trust me, you won't want to miss this game.
Northwest Raiders vs West Feliciana
People talk about "sleepers" all the time, but how do you overlook an undefeated team? Ask the Northwest Raiders, who are undefeated yet still slept on.
Northwest ran the table for an outright district title, and they outscored their two postseason opponents, 97-27...that's called domination, folks. The Raiders' defense didn't allow anybody to score over 17 points all throughout the regular season, and Mansfield was only able to muster 20 points in the second round. The Raiders are rugged on defense, explosive on offense, and one of the most dangerous #8 seeds in the history of the playoffs. The power point system hurt them, due to strength of schedule, but Northwest crushed everybody in front of them this season.
This is a true battle of heavyweights. Northwest and West Feliciana are both undefeated, but somebody's season will end with their first loss.
West Feliciana already took out some heavy hitters this season. Their kill list includes wins over Erath, Parkview Baptist, Livonia and U-High. I would get into the details of their domination, but it would take all day. They're an airtight unit. Everybody does their job, they're massive, disciplined and dangerous. They definitely earned their #1 seed, but the Raiders fought to get where they are too.
Notre Dame Pioneers vs St. Charles Catholic
The Notre Dame Pioneers are a boulder rolling downhill. They won the state championship last season, and I will argue they're even better this year.
St. Charles beat their first two playoff opponents by a total of 66-6, and they're coming off a shutout against Calvary Baptist, but the Pios are a completely different beast. No disrespect to St. Charles, but they're going to have to play a perfect game to best Notre Dame.
Notre Dame isn't the number one seed, but anyone with a bit of intelligence knows they're the reigning champs and the scariest team in the playoffs. They have everything. Head Coach Louie Cook has a fist full of state championship rings, and his assistant coaches are incredible. The players are big, strong, disciplined and determined. One of the best defenses in the state got a boost with the addition of LSU commit and Under Armour All-American Tyler Shelvin, and the offense is flying this year, thanks to Bryant Thevis' capability as a pocket passer.
The Pios scored over 50 points seven times this season, and Loreauville was the only team to break 20 against their defense. Notre Dame is on a crash course to the Superdome again this year, and I feel safe to say they're the runaway favorites to win the state championship.
Catholic High-New Iberia vs Riverside Academy
Riverside was in the Superdome last year, and they played Notre Dame down to the wire. We could be in for a rematch in 2016, but not if Catholic High has anything to say about it.
The Panthers' only loss came to the Pios in Week Ten of the regular season, and their only other test of the year came against Opelousas Catholic. Diallo Landry is a versatile weapon at QB, and he leads a Catholic High offense that has a deep playbook, thanks to Head Coach Brent Indest. Indest is one of the brightest coaches in the state, and you can bet your bottom dollar he has some tricks up his sleeve for the semifinals.
Catholic High is coming off an impressive, dominant 49-21 win over Newman, and Riverside did the same thing (48-17) to Ouachita Christian. I have a feeling this could be one of the best games in the state this week, so don't miss it.
Acadiana Wreckin' Rams vs Zachary Broncos
The Wreckin' Rams take on the defending state champs, the Zachary Broncos, in a primetime matchup in Class 5A. Acadiana is on the warpath, and they're absolutely playing their best football of the season so far.
Acadiana's defense has ten turnovers in two postseason games, and Bralen Trahan has two pick-six's to spearhead their attack. The Wreckin' Rams are coming off a huge win over the #3 seed, Ponchatoula, and they're carrying a ton of momentum. On the field, Acadiana hasn't lost a game since Week Three of the regular season, and they're getting better every game.
Jaylon Borel adds a passing dimension to Head Coach Ted Davidson's veer offense that the Rams don't typically posses. Some things don't change though. Acadiana will use their scary offensive line to open up holes for a group of playmaking running backs, and they won't back off all game. The passing game provides a surprising uppercut though. If you commit eight or nine guys to stopping the run, Borel can hurt you with the play action game.
Zachary has losses to Catholic High (BR), Scotlandville and Central (BR) this year, so the Broncos are beatable. You never take the reigning state champs for granted though, especially if your name is Ted Davidson.
Wreckin' Rams fans will make the trip across the bayou for this game, with hopes of reaching the semifinal round. Acadiana is always in contention for the state title, and this year is no different.
Postseason play is a blessing. So many teams stop playing football in Week Ten, so if you're still suiting up at the end of November, be thankful.
Practicing on Thanksgiving means your team has a chance to win a state title. Other players would sacrifice all their turkey, stuffing, potatoes and pecan pie for another chance to put on the pads, so don't take this opportunity for granted. As a senior, this could be the last game you play, unless there is a college career ahead of you. Make your city, family and friends proud.
Somebody in the Acadiana area is going to bring back a state title. We hope there are a lot of parades. South Louisiana is full of fighters, so go throw down and take home the glory.