But, for Notre Dame Coach Lewis Cook week seven of the schedule has been a tough hurdle for a lot of reasons not necessarily related to the actual game.
A native and resident of Rayne, graduate of Rayne High and former coach of the Wolves, Cook is not exactly a favorite son for this seven day stretch of the football season when he leads his Notre Dame Pioneers against the Wolves.
Hopefully, Rayne fans can understand it’s no picnic from the other side of the field either.
“It’s a little easier when we don’t play the game in Rayne,” explained Cook. “I have a lot of great memories on that field and when I look up in the stands I can tell you exactly where my mom and dad would sit for each game. It’s always tough to take a team in there to play on that field. So, being on our field this year makes it a little easier.”
The situation hasn’t been helped by the fact that recent games have been pretty one-sided. Like last week’s win over Erath, last season’s game with Rayne saw the Pios take a big first half lead and cruise home to a 35-0 win.
In fact, Notre Dame starters barely made it past halftime over the stretch of weeks six through eight. Though that was an advantage over the long haul, it requires a decision to be made as to when the rest begins to influence effectiveness.
“Last year, our final two games were our most competitive in district,” continued Cook. “It may be a lot like that again this season with North Vermilion and Kaplan. But if Rayne plays the way they did the other night, we’ll have to be on our best game. Abbeville looks improved and their quarterback can make plays. So, regardless of how things go the next couple of weeks, when we get to the end, we need to have our best team out there playing into the third and fourth quarters.”
With six starters on offense and five on defense back from a team that closed with competitive losses to North Vermilion (14-0), Erath (12-6) and Abbeville (19-8), Coach Curt Ware entered his fifth year at Rayne with greater expectations than the one win of last season.
The Wolves opened with victories over Rosepine (21-20) and Welsh (42-20). The end zone has been an elusive area for Rayne over the last three weeks but the offense has run the ball for good yardage in four straight losses. The Wolves defense was solid in dropping games to Church Point (14-6) and Kaplan (14-7), allowing the Pirates just half of their 300 plus yards per game rushing average.
“They were hoping to be 3-2 after five games and the loss to Church Point where they had a big lead kind of set them back,” notes Cook. “They had one of their better efforts against Kaplan but a roughing the passer penalty on third and twelve gave Kaplan a first down and they finished the drive to take the lead and win the game. There were two games where you can pick three or four spots that could have turned the result around and they could easily be 4-2 right now.”
Junior fullback Brody Bourque (5-11, 185) leads the Rayne ground attack with 649 yards on 112 carries and eight touchdowns. Bourque has had games of 149 and 135 yards with backfield mate Jaylan Williams also posting a pair of 100-yard efforts and getting almost as many opportunities with 536 yards and three TDs on 75 attempts.
“Bourque is a hard runner and has good speed,” assessed Cook. “Williams is getting the second most touches and he’s their outside guy with good quickness. You have to get him down before he gets going or he will break for good yardage.”
Those statistics look nice, but the Pios counter with a few numbers that are simply borderline incredible. The Notre Dame defense has allowed 708 rushing yards in six games. That defense has also posted 54 tackles in opponent backfields and 8 sacks totaling 299 yards in lost yardage. That translates to 409 net yards allowed or just 68 a game.
According to Cook, the Pios defense has been solid all the way around. He isn’t expecting any big surprises that his defense won’t be prepared for.
“They are a running team out of the wing T and that’s something we’ve seen a lot of over the past few seasons. They don’t throw much, but TE Danni Harmon (6-2, 210) gives them a good target and he had a big catch for them in the Kaplan game. Their quarterback, Clarence Leger (5-10, 200) is a strong kid and while they don’t design a lot of plays for him to run, if he gets going downfield it takes a little help to get him down.”
Notre Dame put a fresh band aid on its own ground attack last week against Erath. The Pios got a lot healthier in a hurry with 169 first half yards and five rushing touchdowns before taking the rest of the evening off.
Rayne will try to slowdown the progress with a defensive front anchored by returning senior tackles Tyler Jennings (5-8, 240) and Gavin Broussard (5-11, 245). Ends Andrew Abshire (6-0, 210, Sr) and junior Pat Charles (6-0, 235) will lend help along with senior linebacker Dan Ware (5-8, 185).
“It’s usually about taking what the defense gives you with their alignment and making adjustments to anything they throw at you that is a little different,” noted Cook. “We can sometimes formation the defense into certain things that we can take advantage of if we can get them into a certain set. Last week, Erath wanted to pinch on us a little bit, so we took Logan (Venable) off the edge a couple of times and they had nobody there. We’ve had success with the draw play when the guys get on their blocks.”