Road to the Dome: LHSAA Division III Quarterfinals Preview
by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen
8 teams are down and there are 8 more teams left to go. All 16 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 III quarterfinal matchups.
#1 Notre Dame Pioneers (9-0) vs. #8 Episcopal Knights (9-2)
Game 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 had the luxury of having a first round bye. 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 and Austin Jemison, who combine to run for almost 2,000 yards and 37 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. Besides the loss to Dunham in the final game of the regular season, the Knights’ only other loss was against Country Day earlier in the regular season 31-23. Well, the Knights were able to get revenge on Country Day defeating the Cajuns in the first round of the playoffs with a score of 24-20. The Knights were able to use their bread and butter, which is the team’s running game. Instead this time, it wasn’t Austin Jemison who was Dickinson’s sidekick that was maximizing on his opportunities, but it was senior Chris Hatzis. Both runners each ran for over 100 yards, but Country Day’s passing game got going with one of the best underclassmen quarterbacks in the entire state in Justin Ibeitta, who is 6-5, 215 as a sophomore. Ibeita threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, but the Knights were still able to pull the narrow victory out. The Knights have a well executed offense, but now, they will have to execute on a lot more plays than normal as they will face one of the best coaches in the state in Lewis Cook as well as the #1 seed Notre Dame Pios.
Lee’s Take: “I love Coach Bourgeois and what he has done at Episcopal, but Notre Dame all the way in this one. There is just too much talent for Episcopal to handle and also add the fact that Episcopal is young. Episcopal’s win over Country Day was lagniappe for that program. Episcopal will fight Notre Dame hard and will play them close for a half. I just see Notre Dame pulling away in the third quarter.”
#2 Isidore Newman Greenies (10-0) vs. #10 St. Thomas Aquinas Falcons (9-2)
Game 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 got some rest this week as the team had a bye and now, they will have to play a confident St. Thomas Aquinas team that has had already played in a playoff game. 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 leading the team to eight wins and a playoff victory against Ascension Episcopal. It was not easy for the Falcons even though the Blue Gators played without their starting quarterback, running back, and offensive tackle. The Blue Gators even had a chance to win the game on the final drive but a fumble cost the Blue Gators’ chances. Still, the Falcons found a way to win the football game and that is what is most important when it comes to playing in the playoffs. The offense is led by QB Kade Bleakley, who has been a great leader for this football team, WR Jaylen Jackson, who is Bleakley’s top receiving option, and TE Dustin Dyson, who has the frame to become a special player at 6-4, 200. 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. If the Greenies play to what they have been capable of playing, they should be able to win the football game, but this is a St. Thomas Aquinas team that teams cannot sleep on. Amite found that out the hard way as the Falcons were responsible for the Warriors’ only loss all season long.
Lee’s Take: “I think Newman is going to win this game by halftime. St. Thomas Aquinas is down with John White retiring and replacing him with a new coach. I am really shocked that they have advanced this far in the playoffs. A lot of credit goes to Coach Gonzalez and what he did this year. Still, I think that Newman will win this football game and will play Catholic New Iberia for a chance to go to the Superdome.”
#3 Catholic New Iberia Panthers (9-1) vs. #6 Calvary Baptist Cavaliers (7-4)
Game 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 make 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 are well rested after a bye last week, which is something that the defense especially needs playing against their first playoff opponent this week. 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. In Calvary’s first playoff game, they were able to blowout a really good Holy Savior Menard football team 50-7 due to a lot of big time plays. The Cavaliers scored five touchdowns before the Eagles could even run five offensive plays. Washington only had seven carries throughout the entire game, but he ran for 186 yards including a 69 yard touchdown run. Hart only threw 12 passes in the entire game. It was an offensive onslaught by the Cavaliers and it showed how quickly Calvary Baptist can score especially when they scored majority of their points in the first quarter. It will be very interesting on what the Panthers will do in order to stop or contain Kordavion Washington in this game on Friday. Containing #25 could be the biggest key to this game.
Lee’s Take: “I think Kordavion Washington is really the only big time weapon offensively for the Cavaliers along with their QB Cade Hart. I don’t think Calvary’s defense can stop Catholic New Iberia. Catholic New Iberia has more talent than Calvary does. This is not the Calvary Baptist that had Andraez “Greedy” Williams (LSU), Shea Patterson (Ole Miss), Rodarius Williams (Oklahoma State), and Shun Brown (Arizona). They don’t have that kind of talent, but I think Kordavion will have a 200 yard game. However, in the end, I think that Catholic wins this football game.
#4 Dunham Tigers (9-1) vs. #5 Riverside Academy Rebels (4-4)
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 Tigers can also run the football with Treylan Mouton when Williams is not running the football.The Tigers’ Big Three showed up in a big way against Pope John Paul II in the team’s first playoff game. Williams only threw eight passes, but for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Stingley had 230 total yards of offense and four touchdowns including a punt return for a touchdown. He also notched his 10th interception of the year in the win. Treylan Mouton ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns. As a result, the Tigers were able to roll against the Jaguars 55-6. The Big Three and company will need a big game again as they will face the defending Division III state champion Riverside Academy Rebels. The Rebels, under first year head coach Chris Lachney may not have played only seven regular seasons, but it was definitely a ten game type of schedule 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, RB Jeremy Gibson, who is an Arkansas commit, but has not played a lot over the last couple of games because of an injury, WR Jared Butler, WR Jalen Banks, LB Jared Hymel, and DB Garland Robertson. The Rebels had a very slow start against the Northlake Christian Wolverines trailing 7-0 and 14-13, but were able to pull out a 42-21 victory that was much closer than the scoreboard might indicate with the duo of Wesley Brown and Nick Morman rushing for a combined 300 yards and three touchdowns. The Rebels were able to get the victory due to the balanced offensive attack with Loving passing for three touchdowns and RB Louis Cheneau rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown. The special teams play was also a factor for Riverside Academy as Robertson ran a kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a long punt return that set up a score. This game between the Rebels and the Tigers could be a high scoring one as it features two of the best senior quarterbacks in the state in Loving and Williams. It could be one of those games that whoever has the ball last will win the football game.
Lee’s Take: “I am going with Dunham in this game. I saw Riverside play earlier this year and I like their team, but I think Mike Williams will be unstoppable if he does not make any mistakes. I also think Stingley is going to have a great game as both a receiver and a defensive back. He has already had ten interceptions this year. I think it will be too much Williams and Stingley to handle for Riverside, but they will put some points up to make it close in the end. However, I think Dunham will win this game by ten points.”
Jace’s Final Thoughts: Nothing really changes here after predicting all the winners to advance to this round. Even though Notre Dame and Newman have not played any playoff games yet, I am still confident that both teams will get to play in the Superdome. As far as the teams that can advance to the semis-finals, I think that it is going to be a Notre Dame-Dunham matchup on one side of the bracket and on the other side, it will be a Newman-Catholic New Iberia matchup on the other side of the bracket, but we will see how it goes as the Division III bracket is about to get really interesting.
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