If you consider yourself a high school football fan, Friday night is going to offer you a small slice of heaven.

Let’s spare the pleasantries and hyperbolic scribbling. If you’re looking for a great game to attend in Northeast Louisiana Friday night, you have options… Just take a look at this lineup:

—   Ruston vs. Neville

—   Menard vs. St. Frederick

—   Mangham at Oak Grove

—   West Monroe at Sam Houston

—   Union at Many

—   Ferriday at Alexandria Senior High

—   Ouachita at Airline

—   OCS at Southwood

—   Carroll vs. Green Oaks

There’s something interesting involved in every single one of those matchups. And for the sake of space, I’ll keep it limited to just one observation about each…

In the Ruston/Neville contest, you have a rematch of last year’s game of the year. Ruston erased a 21-0 halftime deficit to win 38-35 in triple overtime. The Bearcats took advantage of three Tiger fumbles in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime, extended the game with a miraculous Hail Mary and even saw a game-winning 27-yard field goal go through the uprights to win this unforgettable showdown. It was the first triple overtime game in the series, and after Neville dominated the early 2010s, Ruston has now won three of the last four matchups. Neville will have something to say about that this year. 

One night prior to Ruston and Neville, St. Frederick will open the season on a Thursday against a Menard team that’s bigger in class. But that doesn’t mean the Warriors will be underdogs at home with the defense it returns from last year.

It could be a very promising year for St. Frederick if six young starters avoid freshman miscues.

There are three matchups outside the parish that I normally wouldn’t preview, but these are just too good to overlook. The first is Mangham and Oak Grove. Ryan Gregory is coming off of back-to-back state titles with the Tigers but has his youngest bunch in quite some time. Meanwhile, Mangham is looking to build off of last year’s impressive 11-1 record, so it’s not an exaggeration to call this a meeting of the giants.

The same can be said about the matchup between Union and Many. 

Both are state title contenders, and Trey Holly is a name that you’ll hear frequently in the area. Union’s junior running back is approximately 3,500 yards away from breaking Louisiana’s all-time rushing record.

And last but not least, Ferriday vs. ASH has been a highly competitive matchup between a recent state champion (Ferriday) and last year’s runner-up (ASH). Despite this being Class 2A vs. 5A, Ferriday has proven it can punch up in competition in this battle of the Trojans.

Bringing it back to the parish, when’s the last time West Monroe hit the road in Week 1? I asked Rebel coaches that this summer and they all had puzzled looks on their face. I still haven’t gotten a concrete answer on that question, by the way.

Regardless, the Rebels open with a Sam Houston team that is two years removed from an eight-win season. Of course, we understand the struggles Lake Charles has gone through recently with the hurricanes down there. I would imagine that has an affect on the product Sam Houston puts on the field in 2021, but seeing the Rebels make a long road trip in Week 1 makes for quite an interesting storyline in of itself.

District 2-5A rival Ouachita will begin the Todd Garvin era against an Airline team that got shoved around a good bit in 2020. Is Ouachita capable of administering some of that punishment in its first year under Garvin?

And listen, Holly isn’t the only back returning to District 2-3A with a lot of hype. Don’t forget about Carroll’s Amareya Greeley, who rushed for 750 yards last season. Carroll inherits a stiff test with Green Oaks, who won seven games last season in the opener. They’ll also get to see LSU commit Decoldest Crawford up close. 

And as for OCS at Southwood, I’m always curious to see how the Eagles fare against bigger opponents, even if the 5A Cowboys struggled to win a single game last year.

Well there you have it. It almost feels like the college football season opener with these titanic matchups, and there’s plenty more big ones to come, like West Monroe vs. Catholic, St. Thomas More vs. Neville, etc. 

For now, let’s celebrate what should be another special year of football in our own backyard.

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