Welsh vs. St. Helena

Welsh Greyhounds come out to get the Championship trophy during the Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic Class 2A Football Championship at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana on Friday, December 8, 2017. (Dennis Babineax/Special to the American Press)

Last year's trip to the Superdome was memorable for the picturesque drive through the snow — thanks again, Rodrick Anderson — to see Welsh claim the Class 2A state championship.

This year we could have something even more rare than snow — multiple local teams playing, which hasn't happened since 1995, when DeQuincy and Leesville both earned runner-up finishes. The area has three semifinal teams left, a high-water mark for at least two decades.

Iota's appearance in the semifinal round is its first since it finished as state runner-up in both 2001 and 2002, capping off a great run which also included a 1999 state championship. Since that run, the Bulldogs had won just two playoff games before this season, reaching the regional round in 2003 before a dry spell that ended with a win over Patterson last season.

The undefeated Bulldogs have earned this appearance the hard way, winning one of the state's toughest districts, 6-3A, which also produced the No. 2 seed, Eunice, which is also still alive.

The Wampus Cats are also undefeated, staying alive dramatically last week by overcoming a 49-39 deficit with a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes of a road game at St. Martinville, which was also undefeated.

Like Iota, Leesville has struggled in the postseason since its last Superdome appearance. The Cats won a pair of games in 2000 before running into super-sized running back Brandon Jacobs of Assumption in the quarterfinal round. Since then, the Cats won only four playoff games before this season, though first round wins in each of the previous two seasons showed the program was moving in the right direction. Head coach Robbie Causey and his staff have used a creative offensive scheme to roll up big point totals all season, taking advantage of a deep group of skill position players.

Welsh has been a consistent winner over the past five years, starting with a quarterfinal run in 2013 and culminating in last year's championship run. Another extended playoff run was not a given as the Greyhounds stumbled out of the gate with a Week 2 loss to Kaplan and had to forfeit an opening week win over Rayne. Welsh also had to remake themselves offensively after losing QB Zach Hayes, the Offensive MVP of last year's Class 2A All State team.

Austyn Benoit, starting at QB on the varsity level for the first time, grew into the role, leading the Greyhounds to a last-minute win over parish rival Jennings as part of a six-game winning streak. The ‘Hounds suffered a brutal loss to Notre Dame in a Week 9 showdown for the district championship, but has been in dominant form since then, winning its next four games by an average of 42 points.

The Greyhound defense has three shutouts in its last four games after allowing 57 in the loss to Notre Dame. Jaheim Simon and Jerome Herbert give the Greyhounds a pair of 1,000-yard rushers and receiver Da'Ren Zeno, taking a less prominent role in the offense this season as the Greyhounds has shifted to a more run-heavy attack, showed he can still be a dominant player last week, hauling in 10 passes for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Welsh's 41-0 win over DeQuincy.

The Greyhounds have enough pieces in place to make a return trip to New Orleans. This time, they might have a neighbor or two on the road next to them.

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