Almost there: Grand Lake looks to dethrone No. 1 Tigers

Rodrick Anderson

To become the best, you eventually have to beat the best.

Grand Lake will walk into Northwestern State’s Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches today looking for its first state title.

And the third-seeded Hornets (8-1) will need to knock off defending champion and top-ranked Oak Grove (10-0).

Kickoff is at 11 a.m.

“Them and Haynesville are the standard in 1A as championship programs,” Grand Lake head coach Jeff Wainwright said. “This team they have right now is a very special team, even for their standards.

“They are an established program. If you want to get there, you have to expect to play them. Now that it is down to these last 48 minutes, anything can happen. We feel extremely excited to be in this situation.”

Oak Grove is making its third consecutive appearance in the final and has scored almost at will in the postseason, averaging more than 60 points a game.

Grand Lake is making its first appearance in the finals after battling two destructive hurricanes to reach the finals.

Wainwright said Grand Lake will take a two-pronged approach to stop the Tigers, who are led by last year’s 1A title game MVP, fullback Ron Craten (1,394 yards, 17 TDs) and receiver Bud Holloway, who has more than 1,000 yards of total offense.

“I think we do a good job with our offense, limiting peoples possessions,” Wainwright said. “We also have a very stingy defense that is going to run to the football.

“Both of those things play hand in hand. Our offense is not going to hurt our defense. At the same time, our defense is going to make it tough for them to move the ball because of our team speed and pursuit to the football.”

Oak Grove head coach Ryan Gregory said he expects a difficult challenge from a Hornets team that has been battle tested on and off the field.

“It doesn’t take much to know how mentally tough those kids are to go through the situation they have gone through and not being able to have a home game,” Gregory said. “We have had to deal with COVID, but it is different dealing with two hurricanes.

“I have always had respect for Coach Wainwright. He has been successful everywhere he has been.”

Grand Lake’s backfield trio of quarterback Connor Guillotte and running backs Eli Fountain and Levi Murrell have combined for 10 touchdowns in three playoff games.

“We have to play assignment football with them,” Gregory said. “Defensively, they are playing really well lately. They held East Iberville to eight points. They give you a lot of different things up front to prepare for. It is going to be a good hard-nosed football game. They like to run right at you with the power run game.”

Wainwright said the Hornets have avoided injuries lately, which will be key against a physical Oak Grove team.

“We are healthy,” Wainwright said. “That is always a big problem in 1A. If you lose some of your key players, you may lose three or four positions. We will be healthy for the game. I know it is going to be a physical game, so it is good to go into that game healthy.”Grand Lake wide receiver Kyler Little has averaged more than 20 yards a catch this season. Grand Lake plays Oak Grove today at 11 a.m. in the Class 1A state championship game at Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches.

Rodrick Anderson/American Press

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