Road to the Dome: LHSAA Division III Semifinals Preview
by Jace LeJeune and Lee Brecheen
12 teams are down and there are 4 more teams left to go. All four 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 semifinal matchups.
#1 Notre Dame Pioneers (10-0) vs. #5 Riverside Academy Rebels (5-4)
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 have a lot of new starters entering this season, 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 Pioneers showed how dominant they can be off a bye when they shut out and dominated an Episcopal football team 45-0. Keep in mind that this is an Episcopal team that had four straight 50 point performances during the season. It was definitely one of the most eye opening dominating performances throughout the weekend. Now, the Pios would like to go back to the state championship game after losing in the semifinals last season to the St. Charles Catholic Comets. This Friday, Notre Dame will have to go through the team that won the Division III state championship game last season in the Riverside Academy Rebels. The Rebels, under first year head coach Chris Lachney may 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. Even though their longtime veteran head coach Bill Stubbs retired after winning the state championship, they still have the leadership to go back to the Dome as a lot of their key players are back from last 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. In their second round matchup, they had to play one of the hottest teams in the bracket in the Dunham Tigers who are headlined by 270 pound senior QB/DE Mike Williams and junior WR/CB Derek Stingley, who will be one of the top recruits in the state for next year’s class. It was a crazy game from the start as Dunham actually had to relocate the game to Parkview Baptist due to a power outage at their stadium. This game featured the likes of Williams and Loving at quarterback so it was pretty obvious that it was going to be a high scoring game. Mike Williams had his typical game passing for over 200 yards and running for over 100 yards with three touchdowns. Stingley had himself his normal output having over 100 receiving yards, a touchdown, and as well having his 11th interception of the season. The Tiger offense put up 42 points, but it still was not enough to pull out the victory. Loving had one of the best games of his career throwing for six touchdowns and leading the offense to score six times out of their seven possessions in the second half. Also, offensively, speedster Kash Foley accounted for 146 receiving yards. Garland Robertson was another key player that made plays on special teams and on defense first with returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and then intercepting a Williams’ pass. It was a huge offensive performance for both teams with little defense as the Rebels were able to out duel the Tigers 62-42. The Rebels now have a chance to go back to the Superdome for the third consecutive season with a victory over Notre Dame. It should be an intriguing matchup as the explosive Riverside Academy offensive attack will take on a very dominant and well coached Notre Dame defense that has been known for shutting down highly octane offenses.
Lee’s Take: “I was very impressed with the Notre Dame victory over Episcopal. I was at the Episcopal-Country Day playoff matchup the week before. Country Day is very good and Episcopal was able to beat Country Day. By shutting out Episcopal, it just showed that Notre Dame can still play Pio football. Riverside can put up some points, but I don’t think they will put up 30 points on Notre Dame. Notre Dame has put up some points this year on offense, and what is most impressive is that this is a young Notre Dame football team made up of mostly sophomores and juniors. Coach Cook has done a phenomenal job. I think Riverside will have their moments in the game especially with Jordan Loving and the rest of the offense, but in the end, Notre Dame will roll to get to the Superdome.”
#2 Isidore Newman Greenies (11-0) vs. #3 Catholic New Iberia Panthers (10-1)
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 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 (LSU/New York Giants), this could end up being the first time that the Greenies will make it to the state championship game. After getting the benefit of a bye week in their first round matchup, the Greenies showed that they were not rusty after their week off in their second round matchup against the St. Thomas Aquinas Falcons with a 37-7 victory. The Greenies had a very balanced attack offensively with Butcher accounting for four touchdowns and Poche running for 200 yards. Defensively, the Greenies showed that they were a unit not to overlook as they were able to contain the Falcon offense all night long only giving up one touchdown and just under 200 total yards of offense. The Greenies will advance to the semifinals once again only to face the Catholic New Iberia Panthers. 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 with 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 Jaden 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 before their second round playoff matchup. After being well rested in their bye week, the Panthers came to play in their second round playoff matchup against the Calvary Baptist Cavaliers, which was the team that defeated the Panthers in the 2014 Division III state championship game. Offensively, Landry, Stokes, and company were rolling as the unit racked up almost 600 total yards. Landry showed why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the Lafayette area racking up over 220 yards of offense and three touchdowns. His counterpart Stokes also had a great game making some nice highlight reel runs. He ran for over 170 yards, two touchdowns, and was on the receiving end of one of Landry’s touchdown passes. The Panthers’ defense did not totally shut down Kordavion Washington in company, but they did slow them down as they gave up 28 points to a team that was averaging way over 40 points. The Panthers were able to get their revenge on the Cavaliers winning 49-28. The Panthers will play the Greenies in what seems to be a deja vu type of game. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just ask fans for both teams as this was a rematch of the 2014 Division III semifinal game, which was won by the Panthers 55-35. It should be a great matchup as both teams have balanced offenses as well as underrated defenses. This game will determine once again what team will go to the Superdome for the second time in four years.
Lee’s Take: “Newman has had the worst luck getting into the Superdome for the last ten years under Nelson Stewart. Nelson has done a great job, but they have been eliminated by Catholic before to get to the Dome. Talent wise, this is an even game. However, I think this is a reversal this time. I think Newman will play like there is no tomorrow and will finally get to the Dome. Can you believe that they never went there with Peyton Manning (Tennessee/Indianapolis Colts/Denver Broncos), Eli Manning (Ole Miss/New York Giants), or Odell Beckham (LSU/New York Giants). This could set up a great game in the Superdome between Notre Dame and Newman.”
Jace’s Final Thoughts: “Before the playoffs started, I picked a Notre Dame-Newman matchup in the Superdome and that prediction is looking pretty good as of right now so I am going to have to go with both teams to win and advance to the Division III state championship game. However, both teams will face pretty good challenges in order to advance so it will not be easy by any means and it could easily be a matchup on the other side as well.”
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