Road to the Dome: LHSAA Division I First Round Preview
by Jace LeJeune, Cameron Cerniglia, and Lee Brecheen
Finally, the best time of the Louisiana High School Football season is here and that is playoff time! 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 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. For the second 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 6th-8th. 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 5A private bracket, which is Division I!
#1 John Curtis (10-0)-Bye
Jace’s Team Preview: It is amazing what Head Coach J.T. Curtis does every year. No matter who returns or leaves, you know that John Curtis is going to always be the favorite to win a state championship. This year is no different as Coach Curtis will look for his 27th state championship. This group definitely has a shot at that number after a little bit of a drought having not won a state championship since 2013. In the split back veer offense, the good news is that QB Collin Guggenheim returns. Guggenheim has the athletic ability to run this offense and with another year in the system, he has thrived even more. The bad news is that Ma’khi Smith is the only experienced running back heading into the season, but fortunately players such as Corey Wren and Ronald Poole have stepped up in the rotation. Curtis’ defense has been really good as well. They are pretty much set at every level. In the front four, DE Colby Orgeron, DT Drake Brantley, and DE Angelo Anderson have made it easy for their athletic linebackers Jayden Barfield, Josh Valentine, and Zechariah Blake. Against the pass, not a lot get past this group especially SMU commit Donald Clay. Defensive backs Brenton Clofer and Dominic Brown are also talented players as well. The special teams is well coached as punter Austin McCready and long snapper Zachary Englander are two of the best at their positions. The John Curtis Patriots will have a bye this week and will face the winner of Jesuit and St. Paul’s.
#8 Jesuit (5-5) vs. #9 St. Paul’s (5-5)
Jace’s Game Preview: This is a really good matchup in the first round of the Division I playoffs. The game will come down to a battle of strength vs. strength. I think the game will come down to which unit does better: Jesuit’s defense or St. Paul’s offense. The Jesuit Blue Jays, led by Head Coach Mark Songy, has a defensive unit that has not given up more than 28 points in every game this season. The standout defense has a lot of really good players including LB Marc Dougherty, FS Cameron Helm, DE/OLB Perry Ganci, and DT Sonny Hazard just to name a few. Offensively, the team will rely on QB Robert McMahon, who is a former wide receiver that has showed a lot of toughness at the quarterback position. RB Willie Robinson, WR Will Moran, WR Brendan Berggren, and WR Noah Varnado will look to step up on the offensive side of the football for the Wolves. On the flip side, the St. Paul’s Wolverines, led by Head Coach Ken Sears, are very explosive on offense having scored 30 points or more in three games this season including 70 against Ponchatoula. QB Jack Mashburn is one of the best quarterbacks in the St. Tammany area and he has some pretty good help around him including WR Nick Stanton as well as a very good offensive line. Defensively, the front seven has been the biggest strength for this team with linebackers Michael Phillippe, Jordan Roberts, and DE Spencer Fox taking the charge. Leading the secondary is FS Robert Buquoi and SS Wayne Galloway. Both teams played each other in the second game of the regular season with the Blue Jays winning 34-24.
Lee’s Pick: “They both played each other in the regular season and Jesuit beat them. It’s hard to be the same team twice in one year, but I have Jesuit winning this game.”
#5 Evangel Christian Academy (6-3) vs. #12 Archbishop Shaw (2-8)
Jace’s Game Preview: The Evangel Christian Academy Eagles, led by Head Coach Byron Dawson, are a team that is more than capable of winning a state championship. It seems that this team just keeps reloading on talent after each year. This season, after losing five DI collegiate signees, the Eagles look as strong as ever. All five of those signees started on the defensive side of the football, but this year, you could not tell as the team has not given up over 20 points in their six game winning streak. The defense is highlighted by an excellent linebacker core, which features two DI football commits in Na’Drian Dizadare (Oklahoma State) and Elijah Chatman (SMU). Even though those are the main two guys, there are other players on this unit that have a chance to play at the next level. They are CB Tyler McGee, OLB Ruben O’Neil, DT Djimon Hill, DB Frederick Morris, etc. Offensively, they are led by a talented passing QB in Blake Shapen, a very underrated running back in Tamauge Sloan, good skill position players such as Horatio Ruffins, Jiren Rattler, and Dantreon Platter, as well as one of the best offensive lines in the state featuring Christian Perry and Alvin Ford. Also, when the Eagles need to rely on their kicker Jonathan Terry, he is pretty much automatic. What has helped this team the most is playing tough competition out of state early in the year in order for them to get ready on this playoff run. The Archbishop Shaw Eagles have taken a step forward under Head Coach Tommy Connors. The Eagles offense is built around RB Rayon McGrew and WR Christian Jourdain. The defense may be the best part about this team because it features collegiate caliber players in LB Miles Haney, LB Payton Clement, DE Mark Smith, and DB Dorian Lewis.
Lee’s Pick: “I am happy to see Archbishop Shaw in the playoffs, but they drew the wrong team in Evangel. Evangel will win this game.”
#4 C.E. Byrd (7-2)-Bye
Jace’s Team Preview: The C.E. Byrd Yellow Jackets, under longtime Head Coach Mike Suggs, are always in games and part of the conversation when it comes to being one of the most consistent 5A programs over the past decade. This season was another good one for the Yellow Jackets winning seven games. The team is solid at all three units. On offense, QB Cameron Felt, RB Lawson Jackson, and WR Carson Dunn have been relied on in terms of scoring points. Defensively, the group may not be the biggest, but the unit sure has a lot of speed especially in the secondary. A player to watch for is CB Avaunte Steward. He is one of the best players in North Louisiana that not a lot of people are talking about. He has legit 4.45/40 speed and is not afraid to hit either. His counterpart Chondrick Lofton, who also possesses 4.5/40 speed, makes this a secondary that you don’t want to mess around with. Like mentioned earlier, the offensive and defensive fronts are not big, but they make it up with their speed and effort. The team also has an X factor in punter Scotty Roblow, who can change field position for the Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets have a bye this week and will face the winner of Evangel Christian Academy and Archbishop Shaw next week.
#3 Archbishop Rummel (8-2)- Bye
Cameron’s Team Preview: Archbishop Rummel has a bye in the first round and will face the winner between Brother Martin and Scotlandville. Rummel had a tough schedule and came out with only 2 losses, one of them being to an out of state school in Escambia (FL).
#6 Brother Martin (6-4) vs. #11 Scotlandville (4-5)
Cameron’s Game Preview: The Brother Martin Crusaders came out of the regular season with six wins in an extremely tough district. They rebuilt in 2017 and that showed this season. The most relied upon part of the Crusaders offense is their receiving corp. That WRs are led by L.J. Gilyot, Nick Turner, Davon Moore, and Michael Faust among others. This group will be hard for Scotlandville to defend. Scotlandville also had a tough schedule but that experience should help them in the playoffs. The Hornets will need to rely on SS Nick Williams, DB Briston Tate, and LB Jimyon Profit will have to step up big to make it to the next round.
Lee’s Pick: “This is a very even game. I will say Scotlandville is going to win it. I just think they have more speed than Brother Martin.”
#7 Holy Cross (7-3) vs. #10 St. Augustine (5-5)
Cameron’s Game Preview: These two teams played late in the season and Holy Cross won 24-20. Holy Cross was able to improve on their 5-6 2017 record by having lots of experience on this team. The Tigers will rely on QB Bryan Broussard and WR Tyler Kirkwood to connect throughout the game to defeat the Purple Knights. The Purple Knights come into the playoffs having lost three of their last four games, but that does not mean anything. Coach Nathaniel Jones will have the team ready to make a run and it will start with QB Michael Mims, WR Broderick Martin, and LB Christopher Confident.
Lee’s Pick: “This one could go either way also. I am going to go with St. Augustine to pull it out.”
#2 Catholic-B.R. (9-1)- Bye
Cameron’s Team Preview: The Catholic Bears have a bye in the first round and will face the winner between Holy Cross and St. Augustine. The Bears had a great season as usual going 9-1. Coach Gabriel Fertitta has a great group of players and it starts with QB Cameron Dartez along with DE Elijah Reames, FS Jonathan Mestayer, and WR Forest Roy.
Jace’s Final Thoughts: I feel that there are some teams that can give Catholic and John Curtis a run for their money, but for the most part, I see a rematch of last year’s Division I state championship game.
Cameron’s Final Thoughts: There are many teams in this bracket that could make a run. As with many of the other brackets, there is potential for some really great games in the second round. I think this bracket comes down to Catholic and John Curtis in the Dome.
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