2021 North Shore At West Monroe 1st round

1st Rd. LHSAA Class 5A Playoffs. Played on Don Shows Field at Rebel Stadium, West Monroe, La. 2021Nov12. Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen. c.2021.www.TomMorrisPhotos.com. All Rights Reserved

Editor's note: This is part one of our playoff breakdown for parish schools this week. 

Six.

Count ‘em up again. This is by far the most teams practicing during turkey week since I’ve been covering this area, as six parish schools still have their state championship hopes alive and well.

District 2-5A has three teams from Northeast Louisiana in the quarterfinals (two from Ouachita Parish), Neville and Sterlington have earned home quarterfinal matchups and District 2-1A has two teams making semifinal appearances in Division IV Friday night.

That sets up one of the biggest weeks of football this parish has seen in a very long time… One might say it’s the biggest since Ouachita Christian, Neville and West Monroe went back-to-back-to-back with state championships in the Superdome in 2011.

So without further ado, grab a fork and let’s dig in.

Class 5A Quarterfinals: No. 9 West Monroe at No. 1 Zachary

I always think of two things when I see a potential West Monroe/Zachary matchup. The first is one of the greatest atmospheres I’ve seen in Northeast Louisiana. If you’ve been to “The Don,” you understand just how difficult it is to fill Rebel Stadium with the seats made available by those fantastic renovations. Back in 2017, that stadium was darn near full. And loud.

In one of the best games in the state that season, Zachary fended off a last-minute two-point conversion to beat the Rebels, 29-27, in the Class 5A semifinals.

One year later those two crossed paths again, but this time it was in the Superdome.

And again I’ll say it. That 2018 West Monroe team was special — the Rebs averaged 41.2 points per game and gave up 12.8 points per contest — but an 80-yard touchdown on a receiver screen by LSU’s Chris Hilton in the closing minutes kept that team from hoisting a state title. West Monroe fans still feel slighted by a no call on a pretty clear block in the back on that play, but regardless, the Broncos emerged as state champs with a 27-24 victory.

So here we are again. The table is set for more drama. This West Monroe team has never been harder to read, and Zachary’s offense is humming with a legit 4-star quarterback at the helm. Eli Holstein finished the regular season 15th in the state with 1,954 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with no interceptions. 

Zachary put it on West Monroe in a scrimmage before this season, and I heard from many of you who attended that were simultaneously blown away by the Broncos athleticism and fearful of what was to come for the Rebels this year.

I would imagine Zachary is the last team many of you wanted to see, especially this early into the playoffs, but one quick reminder before Friday night — Jerry Arledge has been devising successful defensive game plans for decades at West Monroe. If anyone can figure out a way to slow down Holstein, my money is on West Monroe's head coach.

Class 5A Quarterfinals: No. 11 Ouachita vs. No. 3 Ponchatoula

Sure, Zachary was the proverbial favorite heading into the season to win Class 5A. And you always have teams like Acadiana you have to be mindful of. We all know that. But one name that was commonly tossed around during the preseason was Ponchatoula, and boy, have they lived up to the hype…

For starters Ponchatoula hasn’t lost a game this year. The (10-0) Green Wave are allowing 6.4 points per contest this season while averaging 42.6 points per game. In other words, they’ve obliterated teams all season long.

And that has continued in the playoffs when the Green Wave won their first two playoff matchups against Lafayette and John Ehret by a combined score of 95-13.

Ponchatoula’s best player arguably is Jacoby Matthews, who is a 5-star safety that LSU fans are hoping picks the Tigers over teams like Alabama, Texas, Florida and Texas A&M. 

Ponchatoula’s success hasn’t surprised Ouachita head coach Todd Garvin, who has led the Lions to their first quarterfinal appearance since 2012.

As a member of Ruston’s coaching staff one year ago, Garvin was part of a Ruston playoff victory against Ponchatoula, but he knew the best had yet to come for Ponchatoula. Now Garvin has to, pardon the pun, end this wave of momentum for Ponchatoula.

Enough can’t be said about Ouachita reaching nine wins this season. That’s something I admittedly never thought would happen in Garvin’s first year, so kudos to that coaching staff and the players.

As well as this team responds to challenges, though, it’s going to take Ouachita’s best performance of the year to knock off an extremely talented Ponchatoula team Friday night. The Lions will be massive home underdogs, but we’ve seen Ouachita pull off the unthinkable before, right?

Class 4A Quarterfinals: No. 2 Neville vs. No. 7 Cecilia

If you’re looking to rank which parish teams move on with victories Friday night, Neville would garner the most confidence points.

That only speaks to how massive all of these matchups are. You could actually make the case that every other team in our backyard would be underdogs in a hypothetical money-line in Las Vegas, not that any of you should bet on high school football games. But Neville would and should be favored.

The money matchup for the Tigers belongs in the next two rounds against No. 3 Warren Easton and No. 1 Edna Karr, but that doesn’t mean any member of that Neville Tiger team can overlook Cecilia.

The Bulldogs' lone two losses this year have come against 10-win clubs like St. Martinville and Notre Dame.

It’ll be far from a cakewalk, as Cecilia has won seven games in a row and have averaged 38 points per contest this season.

Add on top of that the fact Neville entered last week banged up with offensive tackle Will Campbell and linebacker Henton Roberts playing through injuries, and you can see why we expect this one to be tight too.

The Tigers defense is still playing lights out, though. After going 23 straight quarters of holding opponents scoreless, the Tigers gave up just 15 points in a 19-15 win against the Bears on the road. Neville is favored on paper, but the folks attending this game in Bill Ruple Stadium should see a good one.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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