Warren Arceneaux column: 4-3A race hangs in the balance

Published 11:32 am Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The pandemic cost us last year’s biggest regular season game, as a showdown between Lake Charles College Prep and Jennings, a pair of District 4-3A unbeatens, was called off.

Thankfully the district has blessed us with another showdown this year, as the undefeated Iowa Yellow Jackets will host Prep Friday night with control of the district race on the line.

Prep has not lost a district game since falling at Westlake in Week 6 of the 2019 season. Since then the Blazers have rolled off 11 straight regular season wins against district foes, and another one in the playoffs.

Iowa has competed with the Blazers, losing by two points at home in 2019 and by 13 in a game played in Vinton last season.

The game has everything you’d want in a big game. Outstanding individual talents, strong units on both sides both offensively and defensively and a good stylistic matchup between teams that like to run the rock but have the talent to make big plays in the passing game.

This year Jackets dominated their first seven foes, then survived a test at Westlake last week. The senior-laden Jackets are strong on both sides of the ball and have a chance to pick up the school’s biggest win in the past five or so years.

The Jackets have one of the area’s most dominant players in Curtis Deville, who can make big plays running, receiving, playing defense or returning kicks. Deville has scored on a punt return, 10 rushes and four receptions. Last week he intercepted a pass at the buzzer to preserve a 31-28 win over Westlake. First-time starter Koltin Lebleu has an excellent 13-2 touchdown pass-interception ratio, while Ronald Young, in his first year of high school football, is averaging 98 yards per game and has scored 12 times in seven games played.

For Prep, the road to this game has been bumpy. The Blazers lost several college-level players to graduation and were hit particularly hard at the offensive skill positions. A tough nondistrict schedule produced a trio of losses, but over the past month the Blazers have returned to winning ways, even overcoming an injury to standout running back TreVonte Citizen.

Backups Devonte Guidroz and JaRell Joseph have each rushed for more than 100 yards in the two games Citizen has not played.

Quarterback Josiah Bushnell threw five interceptions in the first five games of the season but has none in three district games. In those games he has completed 24 of 32 passes for 528 yards and 6 touchdowns. Keshlon Jackson is a game-changing receiver and Eric Beloney has emerged as a two-way weapon similar to Deville. Beloney averages 39 yards per reception, has three TD catches and three interception return touchdowns, all of 80 yards or more.

Prep has hgher stakes on the line in the game. Currently the Blazers sit just outside the top 16 in the Class 3A power ratings, meaning they would be on the road in the first round. Iowa currently sits at number two. Staying in the top two would ensure the Yellow Jackets played at home should they advance to the semifinal round.

Elsewhere, the latest unofficial playoff projections are out and aren’t that pretty for area schools. Barbe’s long streak of making the postseason — at 28 seasons in a row, is in jeopardy after their loss to Sulphur last week. The Bucs likely need to win out, which would include winning at defending state champion Acadiana this week, and get some help to reach the top 32. Missing out under tough circumstances would be cruel, but being so good for so long in the state’s top classification is a tremendous feat. During the 28-year run, the Bucs have won a total of 31 playoff games, winning at least once in 20 different seasons.

Another streak, 16 straight playoff appearances by Jennings, could also be in danger. The Bulldogs currently hold the 32nd and final spot in Class 3A. Like Barbe, Jennings has had plenty of success in the postseason, winning at least one playoff game 12 times during the streak. Jennings has 24 playoff wins over those 16 seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Class 3A game.

The Bulldogs close the regular season with games against South Beauregard and Westlake. A pair of wins should be enough for the Bulldogs to get in.

Merryville currently holds the final 1A spot, while three area teams, Lake Arthur (33rd in 2A), Elton (28th in 1A, where only 24 teams qualify) and Washington-Marion (39th in 4A) are just outside the postseason field at the moment.

Warren Arceneaux covers high school athletics. Email him at warren.arceneaux @americanpress.com