A week after pulling off dramatic quarterfinal upsets on the road, Metairie Park Country Day and Ouachita Christian collide in the Division IV semifinals Friday night at Steven Fitzhugh Field. Kickoff time is set for 6 p.m., an hour earlier than normal.
Conventional wisdom had Vermilion Catholic and Calvary Baptist playing Friday night in the top half of the bracket, but the Cajuns and Eagles had other plans.
Country Day, the No. 8 seed, knocked off top-seeded Vermilion Catholic 21-19 in the quarterfinals. Daniel Conwill’s 40-yard touchdown reception from Justin Ibieta with 1:22 remaining sent the Cajuns to the semifinals.
Meanwhile, the Eagles rallied from a 33-13 halftime deficit to stun Calvary Baptist 49-47. Hunter Herring’s 51-yard pass to Eli Extine with 2:42 remaining provided the margin of victory. Julian Stevenson jarred the ball loose on the ensuing kickoff return and teammate Walker Morris recovered the seal the victory.
“As emotional and exciting as last week’s game was, we have to move on,” OCS coach Steven Fitzhugh said. “We can’t regress at all this week. We are playing the best team on our schedule Friday night, and we have to match that intensity every single play. We are playing a great team that just knocked off the No. 1 seed.”
Scouting Country Day
First of all, don’t read too much into Country Day’s 6-4 record. Those losses came against West St. John, the No. 1 seed in Class 1A; De La Salle, the No. 2 seed in Division II; Isidore Newman, the No. 4 seed in Division III; and Riverside, a Division IV playoff team.
“Country Day made the Class 2A (Division III) semifinals last year, and beat St. Charles, Newman, Riverside and 2A state champion Amite. This is a program that knows how to win,” coach Fitzhugh said. “They have a great coach, and they have played some great teams.”
Country Day is 43-9 in five seasons under coach Joe Chango.
Alternating wins and losses while playing an eight-game regular season schedule, the Cajuns defeated East Jefferson 28-20, lost to De La Salle 49-13, downed Baton Rouge Episcopal 48-13, bowed to Newman 38-13, blanked St. Martin’s Episcopal 56-0, dropped a 42-35 decision to West St. John, routed Ben Franklin 59-57 and fell to Riverside in a 36-35 nail biter. In the playoffs, the Cajuns took out Central Catholic 30-15 before edging Vermilion Catholic 21-19 last week.
For the second straight week, the Eagles are tasked with slowing down a high-octane offense.
Coach Fitzhugh is fully aware of the Cajuns’ passing proficiency. Country Day won the only previous meeting between the two schools, 42-35, in the Division II 2015 playoffs. Quarterback Christian Kerut etched his name in the OCS record book for most passing yards by an opponent by throwing for 521 yards in the first round game. Kerut’s favorite target that night was Trey Harris, whose 146 receiving yards ranks No. 8 on the single-game list for an OCS opponent.
OCS, which surrendered 303 passing yards against Calvary’s Cade Hart last week, can expect another air raid Friday night. Country Day’s current quarterback, Justin Ibieta, is capable of putting up ridiculous numbers as well. A Tulane commit, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Ibieta was the 2018 Player of the Year on the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 2A All-State team.
“We played Country Day four years ago, and they set the school record on us for passing yardage, and they have a better quarterback this year,” coach Fitzhugh said.
“The challenge is nerve-racking again. We just gave up 300 yards passing last week.”
OCS shut down Calvary’s running game, allowing only 62 yards on 22 carries. With Hart being more of a pocket passer, the Eagles were able to key on the backs. Ibieta’s running ability negates that luxury.
“(Ibieta) can run over you or throw it 60 yards into a window,” coach Fitzhugh said.
Ibieta, a three-year starter, has passed for 6,796 yards and 91 touchdowns while rushing for 2,325 yards over the course of his distinguished career.
Carrying only 38 players on its roster, Country Day has nine two-way players, including four starters. Wide receiver Tyler Williams is the Cajuns’ leading receiver and tackler while 6-4, 250-pound sophomore tackle Scott Isacks is a force on both sides of the trenches at right tackle and defensive end. Also pulling double duty at wide receiver and strong safety is Dylan Simmons.
OCS has three two-way starters (left tackle/defensive end Grant Mashaw, flanker/cornerback Eli Extine and split end/free safety Will Fitzhugh), and a handful of others who see double duty.
OCS (11-1) has put up some eye-catching numbers, but its most noticeable stat is a plus-27 turnover margin. As reflected by the 35 takeaways (18 fumbles, 17 interceptions) and 8 giveaways (4 fumbles, 4 INTs), the Eagles made big play after big play defensively, while taking care of the football on offense.
Leading the Eagles defensively are linebackers Ethan Hogan (74 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks), Mashaw (73 tackles, 15 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and Jon Thomas Dixon (51 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks).
Ends Christian Gray (58 tackles, 13 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 FF) and Christopher Holyfield (46 tackles, 6 TFL), and nose guard Jacob Ogden (10 tackles, 1 sack) are the starters up front. Gray recorded his 17th career sack last week to move into a tie for second place on the school’s career list.
Patrolling the secondary are strong safeties Aidan Ham (47 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 FF, 2 INTs) and Kade Woods (42 tackles, 10 TFL, 3 FF), cornerbacks Landon Graves (22 tackles, 4 INTs) and Extine (31 tackles, 3 TFL), and free safety Will Fitzhugh (51 tackles, 3 TFL, 6 INTs).
Quarterback Hunter Herring has passed for 1,574 yards and 23 touchdowns with only four picks in 177 attempts.
Dillon Dougan (90 carries, 809 yards, 8 TDs), Will Fitzhugh (82-271-14) and Herring (89-652-16) lead a balanced rushing attack.
Tristan Wiley (29 receptions, 631 yards, 7 TDs), Extine (27-411-5) and Fitzhugh (26-445-8) are the primary receivers. Seeing spot duty on offense against Calvary, Woods caught his first two passes of the season for 32 yards.
Right tackle Garrett Folds is listed as a starter for Friday night.
“Garrett is going to give it a go,” coach Fitzhugh said. “He tried to play last week, but came out after about 10 plays.”
With Folds out, senior left tackle Grant Mashaw and four sophomores — Avery Pilgreen, Andy Weatherford, James David Miller and Casey Cobb — manned the offensive line.
The interior line has been a strength for the Eagles this season, powering an offense which averages 379 yards per game (214.7 rushing, 164.3 passing).
No. 6 Southern Lab travels to No. 7 Catholic-Pointe Coupee in the lower half of the bracket with the winner advancing to play Country Day or OCS in the finals. When and where the state championship game will be played remains murky.
Country Day Offense
RT—#54 (name not available)
RB—CD St. Hilaire
Country Day Defense
DT— Stephen Wagner
S—CD St. Hilaire
RG—James David Miller
FB—Van David Matherne
LB—Jon Thomas Dixon
OCS Special Teams
DS—John Daniel Thomas