Road To State: LHSAA Division III First Round Playoff Preview
by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen
It is the most wonderful time of the year, and I am not talking about the holidays. I am talking about the LHSAA Playoffs, which start this week. 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 in mind and that is to be one of nine teams in the end holding a state championship trophy in the end. For the third year in a row, we got you covered as for the next couple of weeks, we will go through all of the private and public 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 13th-14th. Louisiana Football Magazine’s recruiting expert Lee Brecheen and editor Jace LeJeune give their insight on which teams will survive and continue their march to the State Championship. Today, we preview the Division III playoff bracket.
#1 Lafayette Christian Academy Knights (9-1)-Bye
Team Preview: After winning the last two Division IV state championships, the Lafayette Christian Academy Knights, led by former LSU All-American linebacker Trev Faulk as head coach, have moved up to Division III. Despite losing quarterback great Zachary Clement (Northwestern State) to graduation, UL commit Errol Rogers has filled in those shoes nicely moving from receiver to quarterback. Running the football for the Knights is Northwestern State commit Logan Gabriel, who is a load to bring down at 5-11, 210 pounds with 4.5/40 speed. He will run behind an offensive line that is at least 240 pounds across the board. When the Knights need to throw the football, they have one of the best playmakers in the 2021 class in Sage Ryan, who has 30 receptions for 533 yards and eight touchdowns. Defensively, the Knights are just as strong posting seven shutouts this season led by standouts DT Fitzgerald West, LB Princeton Malbrue, and OLB Nick Picard. What is most amazing about the Knights’ dominant season is that they have impressive wins over Notre Dame, Evangel Christian Academy, Westgate, and district rival Notre Dame to hand Lewis Cook his first regular season loss since 2014. Arguably, their most impressive performance came in a loss against 5A Acadiana in which they held the Rams to only 27 points as they have been scoring over 60 pretty much all season long. From top to bottom, this could be the Knights’ most complete team yet, and that is a scary sign for any team in this bracket. The Knights will await the winner of Ascension Episcopal and Holy Savior Menard in the quarterfinals.
#8 Ascension Episcopal Blue Gators (7-2) vs. #9 Holy Savior Menard Eagles (6-4)
Game Preview: The Ascension Episcopal Blue Gators, under head coach Matthew Desormeaux, are coming off a nice 7-2 season with the team’s only two losses coming against Catholic New Iberia and North Vermilion. It was just a couple of years back that Ascension Episcopal was in the Division IV state championship game. After the Blue Gators decided to take the jump up in class, it has been a smooth transition for them as the team won nine games last season. Entering this game on a five game winning streak, the Blue Gators are playing their best football right now led by quarterback Cole Simon, who has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Running back Asa Freeman has been the workhorse with 840 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Overall, the biggest strength is the experience the Blue Gators have with seniors like Andrew Stolzenthaler leading the way. The Holy Savior Menard Eagles, led by head coach Chris Gatlin, have finished 6-4 on the regular season with a couple of their wins coming against playoff opponents most notably Homer, Avoyelles, Winnfield, etc. The Eagles want to win the game at the line of scrimmage as the team has a deep stable of backs that carry the football. A key part in this game is if the Blue Gators can block big defensive tackle Cody Saucier, who at 6-1, 290 pounds, has the ability to take over games by himself.
Jace’s Pick: Ascension Episcopal
Lee’s Pick: Ascension Episcopal
#5 Dunham Tigers (9-1)-Bye
Team Preview: One of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year in the state of Louisiana is Dunham head coach Neil Weiner for what he has accomplished this season. A year removed after losing an once in a generation type of talent in Derek Stingley (LSU) along with a lot of other key seniors, all the Tigers did this year was win another district championship and finish the season at 9-1. Even though the Tigers lost to Parkview Baptist, the team was also able to get impressive victories over Kentwood, and one point victories over district foes East Feliciana and Episcopal. The Tigers have a dual threat quarterback in Anthony Safford, who came into Baton Rouge from Indiana, and has shown his athletic ability and poise from the midway point of the season where it was a two quarterback system to now running the show himself. At running back, Kalante Wilson has ran for over 1,000 yards and multiple touchdowns and tight end Rhett Guidry, who is the son of former LSU quarterback Mickey Guidry, has quickly established himself as one of the best players at his position with nine touchdown grabs this season. While the Tigers heal for the bye week, they will direct their attention next week in the quarterfinals as the Tigers will take on the Isidore Newman Greenies in the quarterfinals.
#4 Isidore Newman Greenies (9-1)-Bye
Team Preview: When you think of the Isidore Newman Greenies this season, you think of one prominent name that comes to mind and that is freshman sensation quarterback Arch Manning. If the last name rings a bell to you, well that is because he is the son of Cooper Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli Manning, and the grandson of Archie Manning. This season, Arch Manning has lived up to the family name with over 2,000 yards and 34 touchdown passes. He has looked like a veteran quarterback at only the tender age of 14. Coach Nelson Stewart is one of the best quarterback whisperers in the state and does a great job of play calling. Manning also has one of the most productive receivers in the state in Jarmone Sutherland, who continues putting up the numbers with 70 catches for 1,110 yards and 19 touchdowns. Running the football is not a term you think about when thinking about Newman, but when the team needs to, they will rely on Joseph Pleasant, who has 830 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Defensively, the Greenies are led by Virginia defensive end/outside linebacker commit Brandon Williams, who is a physical specimen at 6-4, 230 pounds. With the team’s only loss coming at the hands of St. Charles Catholic in an instant classic, this could be the year that Coach Stewart finally breaks through for the Greenies at becoming so close in years past to get to the state championship. The Greenies will have a bye this week before playing Dunham next week in the quarterfinals.
#3 St. Charles Catholic Comets (9-1)-Bye
Team Preview: According to our very own Lee Brecheen, this might be the best St. Charles Catholic team that Frank Monica has ever coached. If that is the case, then that makes the Comets one scary team especially since you have one of the greatest Louisiana high school football coaches of all time commanding the sidelines, and also add in the fact that the team moved down from Division III to Division II. The Comets are looking to win their first state championship since 2011 as well as make their first championship game appearance since 2014. The Comets have been very impressive all season even in their 14-6 loss against a 5A state championship contender in East Ascension. Coach Monica’s bunch also has wins over De La Salle, Newman, and Lutcher. St. Charles Catholic’s running attack is led by quarterback Justin Dumas, who is a great athlete and fit for Coach Monica’s system. The Comets also have an experienced tough running back in Phillip Tran getting the carries. Defensively, that side of the football has not given up more than 27 points this season led by big Tulane defensive tackle commit Mason Narcisse and outside linebacker Mandel Eugene, who at 6-0, 190 pounds, could be a big time DI player when it is all said and done. When you add talent to already a well coached team, this could be a formula for another state championship for the Comets. St. Charles Catholic will play the winner of Episcopal and Northlake Christian in the quarterfinals next week.
#6 Episcopal Knights (8-2) vs. #11 Northlake Christian Wolverines (5-5)
Game Preview: Longtime Episcopal head coach Travis Bourgeois once again does a great job with the Knights. Even though the Knights may not be as big or athletic as other teams in this bracket, this is a team that fights hard and is well disciplined. That is a great formula in winning football games. In the option attack, the Knights lean on two talented running backs in Zachary High School transfer Ryan Armwood, who has ran for 1,161 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first year of eligibility with the program, and also Kolin Bilbrew. Quarterback Dylan Mehrotra gives this offense a passing attack with 945 passing yards and 14 touchdown passes while Peyton Pontiff is the go to receiver with 303 receiving yards and five touchdowns. First year Northlake Christian Wolverines head coach James Willis has done a great job with this program even after the departure of longtime head coach Anthony Agresta. Heading into this matchup on a two game winning streak, it seems that the Wolverines have hit their stride come playoff time. Quarterback Jayden McCall is a talented young player and he has a lot of senior experience around him to help him grow. Senior running back Blaine Gros has helped carry the load with 1,077 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns this season while senior TE/DE Christian Weaver provides a matchup problem on both sides of the football with his 6-3, 200 pound frame.
Jace’s Pick: Episcopal
Lee’s Pick: Episcopal
#7 Catholic-New Iberia Panthers (5-3) vs. #10 St. Thomas Aquinas Falcons (5-5)
Game Preview: Under head coach Brent Indest, the Catholic-New Iberia Panthers have had an incredible two year run winning the Division III state championship in 2017 and finishing as the Division III state championship runner up in 2018. We will see what the Panthers have in store for 2019. After a slow 0-3 start losing to three tough non-district opponents in Vermilion Catholic, Breaux Bridge, and Barbe, the Panthers dominated in their final five games cruising to a 7-2A district championship. If there is a sneaky team that can make a Cinderella run in this loaded playoff bracket, it would be the Panthers. The offense has arguably the best quarterback running back tandem in the Division III bracket. UL commit Trey Amos is under center for the second straight season as he accounted for 1,460 total yards and 23 total touchdowns. His counterpart Tray Henry has over 1,388 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. In the passing game, KK Reno has separated himself as the number one receiver after the graduation of Peter LeBlanc (ULL). This offense is dangerous to stop and the Panthers could be the wild card to win this bracket. The St. Thomas Aquinas Falcons will have something to say about that as Coach Randall Legette will try and lead the team to pulling the upset. After a slow start, the Falcons have won four straight games to end the season. The Falcons do not have a lot of depth, but there is a lot of talent in their starting rotation. TE Dustin Dyson, RB Devon Wilson, and RB Devaki Williams all have DI ability and are players that can be matchup problems for the Panthers.
Jace’s Pick: Catholic-New Iberia
Lee’s Pick: Catholic-New Iberia
#2 Notre Dame Pioneers (8-1)-Bye
Team Preview: The Notre Dame Pioneers enter the Division III playoffs as the defending state champions and they will do everything in their power to win the state championship again. Led by Hall of Fame coach Lewis Cook, the Pioneers were once again looking for another undefeated regular season until a late touchdown by Lafayette Christian Academy ended their undefeated season hopes. To show how dominant the Pioneers have been under Coach Cook, that was the team’s first regular season loss since 2014. Still, the Pioneers have all of their goals ahead of them and potentially, a rematch with Lafayette Christian Academy for the state championship. Junior quarterback Parker Seilhan is a talented young player that has thrown for 578 yards and 11 touchdowns while arguably the best fullback in the state CJ Thibodaux has carried the offensive load with 1,076 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. Up front, the Pioneers return a lot on both sides of the football. Despite losing five All-State players due to graduation, everything just remains the same for Coach Cook’s group. Players come in, know the system, and as a result, they produce. Like it has always been, this is a well coached team in all three phases of the football. Also, add in the fact that this is a motivated team that has its eyes set on a rematch with LCA, this is one tough team to pick against.
Jace’s Bracket Breakdown: “Even though there are only 11 teams in this bracket, I can see up to six teams that have a legitimate chance at winning the championship in LCA, Notre Dame, St. Charles Catholic, Newman, Dunham, and Catholic-N.I. When you have coaches such as Trev Faulk, Lewis Cook, Frank Monica, Nelson Stewart, Neil Weiner, and Brent Indest all coaching against each other, all I can say is get your popcorn ready. In the semifinals, I have LCA playing Newman on one side and St. Charles Catholic playing Notre Dame on the other. In my opinion, I think we will see that rematch featuring LCA and Notre Dame. It is extremely hard to beat Coach Lewis Cook and the Pioneers twice in one season, much less once, but I think the Knights have the pieces and the team together to get their third straight championship.”
Lee’s Bracket Breakdown: “I think LCA is the third most talented team in the state behind St. Thomas More and John Curtis. I think St. Charles Catholic is going to defeat Notre Dame in order to play LCA in the championship only because I think that this is their best team under Frank Monica and I have gotten the chance to see them play E.D. White Week 3 in person. Their defense can stop any offense on this list, and they are even capable of slowing down LCA. I am actually going to go with St. Charles Catholic winning the championship. Even though LCA is the most talented team, I think St. Charles Catholic is the most complete team.”
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