For 10 weeks high school football fans have piled in and out of stadiums to watch their teams battle for district championships and winning records.
And every play was used as a stepping stone to get teams where they are today — the playoffs.
No matter how you feel about the new Louisiana High School Athletic Association playoff format, it is what it is and it’s not changing. At least not this year.
Like it or not, 25 of Southwest Louisiana’s 29 teams qualified for the playoffs, albeit some of them with just one win while a four-win Sam Houston team will be left at home. However, that’s another argument for another day.
Instead of dwelling on the playoff format, it is time to start shifting our focus onto the games.
The first-round has the makings of an interesting Friday night in the Lake Area, but for the teams competing, their true dreams await in New Orleans.
It has been 14 long years since Southwest Louisiana produced a state championship team, though not for the lack of trying, and with there now being an unprecedented nine championships to claim it seems that someone may finally have a legitimate shot at bringing a trophy back to the heel of the boot.
Iota was the last team to bring home the gold in 1999, when the Bulldogs defeated Port Barre 35-23. Since then Southwest Louisiana has produced five runner-ups: Iota in 2002 and ’03, Sulphur in ’06, Westlake in ’07 and Barbe in ’12. The closest of any of those teams came to winning was Westlake, which lost 19-18 to Parkview Baptist, which now resides in the select divisions.
So with the opportunity to produce a state championship vastly improved, which teams should you keep an eye on to accomplish the task?
In Class 5A only one team will represent Southwest Louisiana, and they arguably have the best chance to bring home a championship.
The Barbe Bucs finished 8-2 coming off their Superdome campaign in 2012. And, while they have hit a few bumps in the road, they have the talent to allow them to finish what they started last December.
Quarterback Kennon Fontenot has thrown for a jaw-dropping 106 touchdowns through his three seasons at the helm while wide receiver and future LSU Tiger Trey Quinn has caught 337 passes for 6,160 yards and 65 touchdowns en route to shattering the state records for most receptions and receiving yards in a career. He needs 21 catches and 179 yards to break the national records.
Behind Quinn and Fontenot stands a much-improved defense that has looked much sharper than it did a season ago.
Standing in the Bucs’ way is a difficult road to the dome, a road that likely leads through Acadiana and Destrehan.
Acadiana issued Barbe its first loss of the season, blocking what would be a winning field goal as time expired. It should be fun to see how the rematch will play out, given both teams make it to the quarterfinals.
In Class 4A, the DeRidder Dragons finished the season 9-1 with the District 3-4A championship, but now sit in the unpleasant situation of being in the toughest portion of the 4A bracket. A win over Northwood-Shreveport likely pairs the Dragons with Breaux Bridge in the regional round. The Tigers defeated state power St. Thomas More in Week 10 and have built a load of momentum entering the playoffs. With a win over the Tigers the Dragons will then be pitted against No. 1 Neville in the quarterfinals.
If DeRidder can manage to make it through to the semifinals, it would have a chance against anyone.
In Class 3A, Southwest Louisiana has four teams in the top 16, but the most likely of those teams to visit the Big Easy will be the Jennings Bulldogs. Iowa, Westlake and South Beauregard each have the potential to make a deep runs, but the District 4-3A champion Bulldogs have a favorable schedule thanks to their No. 5 seed.
Jennings will play host to Jena before likely squaring off with Westlake once more in the regionals. Their toughest test before making it to the state championship will be No. 1 Livonia.
Rusty Phelps, the Lake Area’s longest tenured head coach, will look to playmaker Malik Williams to continue his magic for the Bulldogs both offensively and defensively.
If I had to guess, the Bulldogs have the best shot of being in New Orleans come Week 15.
In Class 2A there are several interesting scenarios for local teams.
Kinder grabbed the area’s highest seed at No. 3 and face a favorable schedule leading up to the semifinals.
In the semifinals, the Yellow Jackets would most likely face No. 2 Winnfield or a familiar face in district rival Vinton. Both are winnable games but could also both spell plenty of trouble for Kinder.
Assuming the Yellow Jackets conquer their side of the bracket and reach the state championship, there is a possibility they will be staring across the field at the Welsh Greyhounds, who they beat in double overtime in Week 9 thanks to a blocked extra point by linebacker DC Arceneaux.
While it may seem far-fetched to see the rematch in the state championship it is very possible with the likes of private schools John Curtis and Evangel Christian gone from the Class 2A bracket.
In Class 1A, Southwest Louisiana has produced a pair of teams that earned first-round playoff byes in East Beauregard and Basile.
The Bearcats were the area’s lone undefeated team in the regular season and, while they have continually impressed with their high-tempo offense, are staring at a very difficult road to New Orleans. After the bye they will face the winner of Ringgold and Plain Dealing before likely meeting Kentwood in the quarterfinals. The Kangaroos were an annual contender even before the playoff split and eliminated Basile in last year’s quarterfinals.
A win over Kentwood would then see the Bearcats in the semifinals with Haynesville, which has won the second-most state championships of any school in Louisiana state history. If the Bearcats can get to the big dance expect them to be the favorites.
So which teams should you keep an eye on?
I would say Barbe, Jennings, Kinder, Welsh and Basile, but with this new playoff format I don’t know if anything could surprise me at this point.
• • •
Troy LaFleur covers high school athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org