“The biggest thing is we have found out a lot about our kids from the standpoint of who can play where and what they are capable of. When you have 50 passes thrown at you and have to handle linemen on slants and linebackers coming through on every play you have the chance to see the strengths of your players and what they can or can’t handle.”
Notre Dame will need all of that knowledge in the District 4-3A opener on the road at Jennings Friday night. The Bulldogs won 10 games last season, losing only to Eunice and the Pios in the regular season and dropping a 34-33 game to Marksville in the 3A quarterfinals.
The game last year was a shoot out.
Notre Dame scored first and last to claim a 34-30 win. Like last season, the Pios and Bulldogs are preseason picks to finish one-two in the league race and this game puts the winner in the driver’s seat.
“Win or lose, there is still a long way to go and a lot that can happen,” added Cook. “We know they will be as good as anyone in the district and to win it you have to win this game. The advantage to having it come first is we go into the game fairly healthy and close to full strength.”
As the fifth ranked passer in the state, Catholic High QB Joe Lissard averages 275 yards per game. He got his numbers against the Pios with 281 yards, but you might say it was more by design
It is doubtful Lissard has never seen so many different looks in a game as was thrown at the Panthers by Pios defensive coordinator James McCleary.
“They did such a good job of reading coverages and knowing what to do that we felt like we needed to change it up. Coach Cook said he wanted to do some things with spot dropping and keep them guessing. We sent people from different places, used a three man rush with eight defensive backs, sometimes a two man rush and sometimes a four man rush. It didn’t work perfectly, but it confused them enough that they stopped throwing over the top and spent most of the time throwing to the outside. And we were able to make some big plays.”
In case you are still wondering, replacement refs were not used in the game and the call on the muffed punt recovered in the end zone was administered exactly as written in the rule book. By definition, a kick remains a kick until it is either possessed by the return team or is caused to become dead. The Catholic punt glanced off a Pios player and remained a kick as it rolled into the end zone. Remember, in high school, a kick that breaks the plane of the goal line becomes dead. As such, there was really no recovery by CHNI and having last been in possession of the kicking team, it is a touchback and the receiving team gets the ball at the twenty.
GAME BALL AWARDS
Big Play of the Game – Austin Thibodeaux 79-yard TD run - Tough call over two other plays that could be called “turning point” plays, but CHNI had closed to within 26-16, had called timeout to get the ball back at the end of the half and Notre Dame needed a first down on a third and nine handoff. The play started off tackle, Thib popped outside and flat outran two tacklers for the TD and a 34-16 halftime lead.
Luke Broussard – Led the ground game with 145 yards on 15 carries and three TDs. On the play following the muffed punt into the Pios end zone, Brousse took it 80 yards for a 13-0 ND lead.
Defensive coordinator James McCleary – Kudos to the whole staff for the game plan in a big win, but Coach Mac kept us all entertained with the personnel packages. Remember the Alabama-Miami game in the early 90’s? Mac did! It could be a long time before we again see 8 DB’s in on one play.
Tyler Binder – Sophomore DB usually shows his ball hawk abilities on special teams play, but Friday Binder pulled double duty on the “freak” defenses installed to contain the Panther passing attack. Binder recorded six total tackles and had a game clinching 99-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Nate Link – Sophomore DL logged five tackles, broke up two passes and was credited with four quarterback hits. His impact was way beyond any stats as Link spent more time in the CHNI backfield than the Panthers running backs. Blockers tried, but never really stopped his path to pressure the QB.
Pios Offensive Line – 315 rushing yards, almost 8 yards a carry, Broussard finished with 145 and Thibodeaux had 138. These are the guys that did it: Nick Casanova(55), Patrick Hundley (52), Wyatt Breaux (59), Christian Hundley (51), Andrew Valdetero (60), Jacob Bruno (69) and tight ends Luke Habetz (88), Conner Benoit (89), Ross Cullen (39). The game ball expenses just went over budget!
Jennings is off to a 4-1 start, opening with a win over Cecilia (35-12), then dropping a 28-21 game to Eunice. The Bulldogs have since reeled off wins over St. Louis (29-28), DeRidder (40-21) and last week scored on six of their first seven possessions, picked off three passes and dismantled Ferriday, 50-8.
Senior quarterback Jaylon Boutte returns to lead the Jennings offense. A converted wide receiver, Boutte started all 13 games last year and threw for 780 yards and 7 touchdowns. Against the Pios, Boutte completed 7-of-12 passes for 121 yards and two scores.
“Last year, he completed some big passes to the tight end,” notes Cook. “He is capable of making good throws and they try to set him up for those by catching you looking into the backfield to defend the run. Our focus will have to be assignment football, not get caught pressing up on play action and individuals have to handle their responsibility on the option.”
The Bulldogs have long featured explosive running backs. Gone from last year are 12-hundred yard rusher Dylan Lavergne and 11-hundred yard runner Tre Richardson. The pair combined for 31 touchdowns and Coach Rusty Phelps started the year with four young replacements trying to fill the hole behind an experienced line with four returning starts.
Lamontray Mouton and Jarquis Brown have separated from the pack to lead the running game. Mouton rushed for 197 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns in the win over DeRidder.
“They are a split backfield offense and they will give it to both of the backs,” added Cook. “They are a little bigger in size and will run trap, they sweep and they will option you. The key to stopping them is staying with our progression and playing all three phases. We have to take the dive away and not let them get that going, make the quarterback go to the last phase and pitch the ball.”
On defense, the Bulldogs return three starters on the line and three in the secondary. Jennings did give up a lot of points last year and with three linebackers that had never taken a snap before this season, the Bulldogs are still working on the right mix.
“We want to try and be a little more balanced on offense,” explained Cook. “They will bring the strong safety up to try and stop the run by putting an extra guy in there. We will need to establish the line of scrimmage, be patient and pick our spots.”