Looking at the slate of high school games for Friday night, I’m compelled to quote a polarizing character from one of the most mocked trilogies in movie history.
But I just can’t help it. Eying the schedule, I channeled my inner Anakin Skywalker when I thought aloud, ‘This is where the fun begins.”
Never thought I’d quote a prequel Star Wars movie, but it is 2020 after all. Nobody gets tired of hearing that either, right?
Back to the whole “fun” thing, the second round of the 2020 high school playoffs has become a huge stage due to some weird seeding as a result of a shortened season. So matchups you would typically find in the quarterfinals or maybe even semifinals, you have in the second round. Take Neville’s game for example…
No. 4 Neville vs. No. 13 Westgate
Fans will be treated with last year’s quarterfinal matchup in the second round this year.
Less than two weeks ago, Westgate led No. 1 seed Carencro, 16-14, in the second quarter. Carencro ultimately won the game 31-23, but it took a red-zone interception to seal that hard-fought victory for a Bears team that holds a victory over West Monroe this season.
But you don’t have to tell Neville fans how good Westgate is. They remember quite well after a back-and-forth game that ended in a 26-24 home victory in the 2019 quarterfinals. Westgate returns a strong nucleus from that team, including versatile quarterback Brennan Landry.
The good news is Neville’s defense has really turned up the heat in the second half of the season. That unit has given up just 29 points in Neville’s previous four contests, which includes a 50-0 opening round victory against Peabody.
Folks, this isn’t your typical second-round matchup, but I’m thrilled we get to see it.
No. 10 West Monroe at No. 7 Central-B.R.
For the first time since 2002, West Monroe earned a double-digit seed, and that has put the Rebels on the road much earlier than anyone would have thought preseason.
And I’ll spare you. We don’t have to relive history. That Central upset in the second-round over West Monroe took place seven years ago, and West Monroe has since avenged that loss.
This year’s Central team enters this matchup with victories against Plaquemine, Walker and Live Oak on its resume. The Wildcats’ only loss this season came against Scotlandville (16-8).
West Monroe has gained new depth in the backfield with both Josh and John Pearson coming off of strong performances against Chalmette. A.J. Howard will likely see the field more this week too, and Derome Williams seems to have hit another gear, himself, as he’s coming off of a career-night where he rushed for 268 yards and four scores. Williams runs angrier every time I see him. He might just break through his pads as The Hulk Friday night.
Yards and points figure to be hard to come by this week, though.
Central players like Russell Chinn, Gage Evans and Caleb Ward have feasted on turnovers this season.
As a team, Central has forced 13 turnovers this year, and the Wildcats limited Live Oak to just 18 yards in the regular season finale. Perhaps even more impressive, Central has limited four opponents this season to a touchdown or less.
No. 12 Sterlington at No. 5 St. James
I thought Sterlington head coach Lee Doty had the best quote coming out of the first round last week.
I asked him about the unusual position of being an underdog this early into the playoffs, which is a role Sterlington seldom plays.
“It’s no doubt we’re the underdog, but that’s our fault,” Doty said. “We had an opportunity to win another game this year, and we didn’t get it done. So we put ourselves in this hole. Now it’s time for us to claw our way out.”
Sterlington quarterback Grant Mangrum looked as sharp as he has all season long in the Panthers’ 59-27 West Feliciana win, and hopefully he can build on that moving forward.
Because St. James’ defensive line is going to be a handful for a Sterlington offensive line that engineers the entire unit.
Four-star LSU commit Saivion Jones leads St. James defense, while Marquel Bergeron is the featured rusher for the defending state champions. The Wildcats are coming off of a 15-0 season and have suffered only two losses this year (Destrehan and Donaldsonville).
Hey, Sterlington has pulled off bigger upsets before…
No. 3 Ouachita Christian vs. No. 6 Metairie Park Country Day
Now isn’t the time to overlook any opponent, and that’s the last thing I’d expect out of OCS this week.
The Eagles enter this matchup, which happens to be their first after Hamilton Christian forfeited its round one matchup with OCS, as the prohibitive favorite.
Country Day started the season with losses to Episcopal and Newman but rebounded with wins against Varnado and St. Martin’s Episcopal before edging No. 7 Riverside Academy in the regular season.
A win against St. Mary’s has put Country Day on the road against the Eagles, and let’s be frank here, it’s going to take an overwhelmingly impressive team to put OCS on upset alert.
This might be what Lane Kiffin likes to call “rat poison” (paying tribute to Nick Saban), but OCS is easily one of the top teams in Division IV.
I think we’d all be disappointed if we didn’t get to see the Eagles and Calvary Baptist square off in the state championship game down the road.
Having said that, let’s get back to the coach speak. One game at a time, Eagles.