2021 - Ouachita at Neville football

Played 2021Sept10 at Bill Ruple Stadium, Monroe, La. Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen. c.tommorrisphotos.com All Rights Reserved

Before the season ever started, the (11-0) Ponchatoula Green Wave were one of the favorites to win it all in Class 5A. Meanwhile, the (9-4) Ouachita Lions were an afterthought in their own district.

And though Ponchatoula ultimately made a road trip to Ouachita Parish and left with a 52-20 quarterfinal victory against the Lions, the District 2-5A champs can take solace in one thing: the Lions earned everyone’s respect.

“I told our kids last night in our last meeting on the field that they could now celebrate the successes we had,” Ouachita head coach Todd Garvin said. “When you’re in the middle of the season, you just have to keep working and grinding. And we did. Now you can look back and say in our first year at Ouachita High School we exceeded expectations and accomplished a lot of goals. We were district champs and beat longtime rival West Monroe and made it to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.”

As proud as Garvin is of everything his team accomplished, he felt his bunch played tight against a really talented Green Wave team Friday night. From the first series of the game, the Lions committed uncharacteristic mental errors and had a dropped pass. A crucial interception thrown on the ensuing possession followed by a wide-open drop led to errors piling up on the Ouachita sideline. And that's something you just can't do against a team as talented as Ponchatoula, Garvin stated. 

“It just looked like some of our playmakers got wide-eyed,” Garvin said. “They maybe felt the pressure was on them. But we didn’t have any reason to be tight. We should have been the loose team. We were the underdogs.”

Ouachita dug itself a hole, but the Lions continued to fight. Running back Marcel Henderson's 14-yard run followed by a 40-yard run by quarterback Charlie Smith made it a 10-point game at the half. Because the Lions fell behind so quickly, Garvin and the coaching staff had to abandon the initial game plan. But he was proud of the way his group responded in the second quarter, especially when Smith entered the ballgame and gave his team a spark.

“Charlie helped get us back in the ballgame,” Garvin said. “We score twice to make it a 24-14 ballgame, but then the backbreaker was when Brayden Johnson went 70 or 80 yards on the first possession of the second half. He out ran us. I didn’t know he was that fast. I knew he ran hard.”

Though the ending wasn’t what Ouachita fans were hoping for, the journey to get there was certainly one to remember. And in reality, playing as poorly as Ouachita did against Ponchatoula, while still having some opportunities to get back into the game, can ultimately serve as yet another building block for the Lions.

“We’re going to show (the players) that film throughout the offseason bit by bit, and when they’re done watching that film, they’ll see we had some chances and weren’t far off,” Garvin said. “That’s the goal is to beat big teams like Ponchatoula and Acadiana and Zachary. I’d love to have one of those guys in the non-district part of the schedule. I wish our seniors had one more year. They laid the foundation for the underclassmen. Those guys bought in and were leaders on and off the field.”

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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