Warren Arceneaux column: Playoffs made interesting by new format

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The 2022 high school football season is in the books for Southwest Louisiana teams, with Iowa’s semifinal playoff run the highlight. Despite going another year without an area squad reaching the Superdome Classic, the season was an interesting one.

Personally, the best thing to happen this season was the implementation of a much better playoff format. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s move to create eight divisions, rather than the previous format with 10 total classes and divisions, worked pretty well. The early rounds of the playoffs were much more competitive than recent years, when blowouts were the norm in the first round and not too infrequent in the second round either. This year, we saw the last team to qualify for the non-select Division II bracket, No. 28 Breaux Bridge, advance all the way to the quarterfinals, with two road wins. In the same bracket, No. 23 North Vermilion also reached the quarterfinals, and No. 25 Jennings won in the first round as well.

Five of 12 first-round games in the bracket were decided by single digits. Conversely, last year’s Class 4A bracket featured just two single-digit margins of victory in 16 first-round games, while nine of the games were decided by 30 or more points, which was the widest margin of victory in this year’s first-round games. The 2001 bracket featured games decided by 39, 40, 41, 42 and 53 points.

Email newsletter signup

The drama continued to later rounds with none of this year’s eight championship games featured the top two seeds. Last year’s Superdome Classic featured four such games, including three of four select school title games, with the fourth being a No. 1 vs. No. 3 game.

We’ll see if the format is retained for future years. Principals can vote it out next month if they desire. Historically, principals have never voted to decrease the number of classes/divisions. It will be interesting to see if the LHSAA’s shift of so many schools from the non-select to select school designation is enough to appease them. The numbers show that the LHSAA made the right move, with the lone problematic issue being district schedules.

A bright spot this season was the large number of sophomores stepping into larger roles. None was as dominant as Leesville running back Xavier Ford, who piled up 2,581 yards and 34 touchdowns in 12 games, before missing the Wampus Cats’ playoff loss to Iowa due to an injury. Ford was a true workhorse, averaging 30 carries and 215 yards per game, and reaching triple-digit rushing totals in each game he played.

Sam Houston narrowly missed out on a playoff berth and has a bright future with a trio of talented sophomores in the passing game. Quarterback Gavin Stout threw for 2,269 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first full year as a starter. Drew Dronet was his top target with 63 catches for 973 yards and seven touchdowns. Ty Stout added 28 catches for 351 yards and five touchdowns, with 233 of the yards coming in the final four games of the season.

Barbe running back Eric Jones ran for 967 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 635 yards and seven touchdowns in the second half of the season as the Bucs closed the season with a 3-2 stretch, with the losses to big rivals Sulphur and Acadiana by a total of five points.

Iowa’s historic season was aided by the emergence of sophomore receivers Kyndon Brass and Johnathan Walker, who stepped up after the Yellow Jackets suffered a pair of injuries at the position before the season started. The duo combined for 542 yards and six touchdowns, producing more than half of the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns.

DeQuincy’s Wyatt Lavergne ran for 332 yards and four touchdowns over the team’s final four games. Quarterbacks Uriah Wade of DeRidder and J.J. Benoit of Jennings led their teams to playoff berths, with Benoit throwing for 84 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ playoff win at Plaquemine. Wade didn’t throw an interception all season.

Next season will have a new look with six area head coaching jobs available. With the amount of young talent on hand, there is reason to hope a few negative trends — no teams in championship game over the last two seasons, no Class 5A playoff wins since 2017 — will come to an end.

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