Unfazed by a predicted late summer heat wave, Ouachita Christian coach Steven Fitzhugh celebrated Labor Day by making a snow angel in the end zone. Fitzhugh’s celebration actually had more to do with the imminent completion of the Eagles’ new turf field than the holiday.
Finishing touches on the field were expected to be finalized by Tuesday night, three days ahead of Friday’s 7 p.m. season-opening game against Arcadia.
“They sanded it (Sunday) night. Tonight they will put the rest of the pellets on the field,” Fitzhugh said Monday afternoon. “It looks really, really good. We should be able to practice on it by Wednesday.”
Friday’s game will match a pair of veteran sides.
“Arcadia has 10 seniors starting on defense, and they have a couple of guys on the line, who are hard to stop once they get going,” Fitzhugh said. “They’re an older, experienced team.”
Showing no ill effects from the loss of the centerpiece of their offense, tailback Corey Russell Jr. (2,801 yards, 32 touchdowns), the Hornets manhandled Rayville 20-0 in the Eddie Robinson Classic.
“Their quarterback returns as a starter from last year and they have a tall receiver they like to throw to,” Fitzhugh said, referring to quarterback Tyler Jefferson and 6-4 wide receiver Jacorein Richardson. “They have some guys who can go get the ball.”
OCS won a 63-32 shootout in last year’s meeting, but the Hornets got the Eagles’ attention.
“Out of their first six offensive plays, they scored three touchdowns,” Fitzhugh said. “Our defense didn’t start off real good good last year.”
Based on Friday’s performance in a 27-0 Bayou Jamb triumph over Franklin Parish, the Eagles’ defense appears to have matured. OCS held the Class 4A Patriots to four first downs and 86 yards total offense, all on the ground. Seven of the Patriots’ 24 rushing attempts went for negative yardage against a unit which sent nine holdover starters on to the field.
“You can see the difference in their level of understanding,” said Fitzhugh of the Eagles’ defense. “We were able to pick off where we left off last year instead of having to teach them what to do. It’s good that they’re not making the same mistakes. The experience makes a big difference.
“Our defense created three turnovers in the Bayou Jamb. Other than the one big play (29 yards), the majority of the time we held them in check, which comes from everybody doing their job.”
OCS’ most pressing concern entering the season is the offensive line. So far, so good.
In the 24-minute outing against FPHS, the Eagles netted 261 yards of offense, including 165 on the ground. Clearing the path were Grant Mashaw, Jacob Ogden, Avery Pilgreen, James David Miller and Garrett Folds.
“The offensive line is where we need to accelerate our growth,” Fitzhugh said. “They made strides from the (Calvary Baptist) scrimmage the week before.”
Dillon Dougan led the rushing attack with nine carries for 81 yards, including a 10-yard TD burst.
Converted wide receiver Hunter Herring continued to progress, completing 6-of-11 passes for 96 yards, highlighted by a 32-yard TD toss to Barham White.
Chosen as the Eagles’ Player of the Game, wide receiver/cornerback Eli Extine caught two passes for 34 yards and scored the team’s first touchdown on a four-yard run. John Daniel Thomas added two catches for 23 yards.
Fitzhugh was excited about the Eagles’ hustle on special teams.
“I thought our special teams did a good job,” Fitzhugh said. “I thought the effort was very good.”
Looking ahead to Week 2, the Eagles make the short haul to Sterlington next Friday.