CROWLEY – No one ever said it was going to be easy.
Notre Dame will load the busses for East Feliciana tonight, just one more hurdle away from reaching the 3A championship. Since the 2000 title, this will make 11 trips to the semi finals in 13 seasons.
But unless you are a player parent, the loyalist of fans or maybe a girlfriend, was this a realistic possibility back in August? Forget about the tradition and the trophies lining the hallways. Objectively, there were a lot of things that had to fall into place for this kind of season.
“I can’t say we went in with these type of expectations,” admits Pios coach Lewis Cook. “We started a sophomore quarterback, we didn’t have a lot of experience at receiver, we had a sophomore starting on the defensive line and a couple of juniors stepping up in the secondary. They have worked awful hard and I am excited they have gotten rewarded for their hard work. We figured we would just see what we could get out of the mix we had and now hopefully we can complete it and get one more win to play for it all in the Dome.”
It is doubtful there has been a more difficult path to the championship for any No. 2 seed than what the Pios have traveled. With 10 straight wins, it is probably time to wipe away all that talk of youth and experience.
“Our players aren’t really young anymore,” added Cook. “Everyone has developed their own personality and we know what we can and can’t do. With what we have seen the past three weeks, for us it is just getting ready to strap it on against the next opponent. All our thoughts are geared to strong points and weak points and featuring what we do to be successful.”
What we have all seen the past 12 weeks is the best possible example of the Notre Dame system and a team that is working its way to the top of the heap! A win over East Feliciana would certainly start a whole new conversation about the 2012 Pios.
A lopsided 35-0 win over Iowa in last week’s quarterfinals was unexpected, but pretty evident early in the game.
“They got two on us last time and they have such good athletes I thought if we could hold them to two scores again, we might have a chance to win,” said Cook. “I really didn’t think we would shut them out, but our defense was unbelievable. They got on them early and just never let up.”
The Pios had beaten their fellow district opponent 28-13 in the regular season. Even Cook was surprised by the quarterfinal outcome.
“You would think in a way it would be a little easier to prepare the second time around, but the only time we see the defense they run is when we play them. They use a 3-5 scheme and get their safeties up a lot to defend the run. We hadn’t seen that at all until we played them the first time, so knowing them a little better defensively, we were able to key on a couple of things they might try.”
GAME BALL AWARDS
Big Play of the Game – Matt Venable Blocked Punt - Senior linebacker has been a big play artist for two seasons and none were any bigger than the first quarter blocked punt to get the Pios on the board in a scoreless game. Hoping for a safety, the Pios got a touchdown when Sam Veillon hustled down the loose ball and recovered in the end zone.
Nicholas Benoit – Three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, the first a 13 yard quick slant to convert a third down, the second a great catch on a 36-yard fade to the Iowa 3 setting up the score to make it 12-0 and the third a 7–yard touchdown running left to right through the end zone. Benoit also had two kick returns for 43 yards.
Brad Stoma – Completed 9-of-14 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, three completions coming on third down conversions. Yea, he threw an interception in the closing seconds of the half on a “go for it all” pass that was picked at the one. So, who cares? It was only his second interception of the year! It didn’t matter.
Gavin Bourgeois – Two pass break ups and two interceptions, the second on the first play of the fourth quarter was returned 55 yards for a touchdown and brought out the white flags from Iowa. Bourgeois now has 7 interceptions on the season.
Hunter Stelly – Led the defense with 11 tackles, of which 9 were solo stops, now has 103 tackles for the season. Crushing block on Bourgeois interception cleared the path to the end zone.
Chad Gibson - 8 tackles and a sack from defensive front, 64 tackles and 8 sacks for the season.
Sam Veillon – Recovered the blocked punt for a touchdown to get Pios on the board, later tipped a deep pass away from receiver to Bourgeois for the 55-yard interception return TD.
It is 48 minutes until midnight and Cinderella East Feliciana is hoping Notre Dame brings a fitting slipper for their quarterfinal game on the Tigers home turf.
Two seasons ago, quarterback Kendell Beckwith (6-2, 230) led East Feliciana to the 2A semifinals in the schools first year of existence after a consolidation of Clinton and Jackson high schools.
Skip ahead to this season where Beckwith is doing a little bit of everything. Highly recruited as a defensive performer, Beckwith began the season at his starting QB position and still sees time there, but his value spills over to linebacker on defense and spot duty at wide receiver.
East Feliciana stepped up from 2A in 2011 and earned a playoff spot as the #32 seed in 3A. Farmerville also moved up and as the #1 seed, survived a 28-26 game with the Tigers that Beckwith missed due to injury.
Corey Hawkins stepped in at quarterback for that game and almost led his team to the third ever win by a #32 over a #1. Now a senior, Hawkins (6-0, 190) had to take over at QB after Beckwith suffered a mid season shoulder injury and Hawkins has completed 75-of-140 passes for 1,264 yards and 14 TDs. Beckwith has been freed up for more time on defense, but still calls signals and has thrown for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns.
With Beckwith out injured again for the district game against Parkview, Hawkins accounted for 5 touchdowns, throwing for 275 yards and 3 scores, and running for 75 yards and two more scores. The Tigers trailed by a point at the half and were down 26-25 in the third quarter before losing 53-39.
East Feliciana defeated Caldwell, 22-6, in the playoff opener and then celebrated a 39-10 home win over #6 Rayne. Hawkins threw for 229 yards and 4 touchdowns against the Wolves and ran for 75 yards and an 11-yard score.
The TD passes went for 43 yards to senior receiver Danny Johnson (5-10, 170), 15 yards to Joshua Davis (5-10, 175) and 64 and 25 yards to sophomore running back Cameron McKnight (6-2, 200).
Beckwith ran three times for 30 yards, catching a 70-yard pass and throwing a 31 yard TD to Johnson against Rayne. When Beckwith is under center, Hawkins moves out to catch passes
For East Feliciana, revenge appears to be a dish best served on the road. The Tigers flipped the table at #14 Farmerville last week, erasing their disappointment of last season with a 22-16 win over the Farmers.
“What we see from their game last week is they are a team that has belief in themselves,” explains coach Cook. “We definitely would like to limit their time of possession. Three scores in one quarter against a good Farmerville team tells you they are pretty explosive. They have committed some turnovers, but you can’t count on that happening. We have to go out and make plays to make that happen.”
East Feliciana trailed 16-0 in the fourth quarter when Beckwith took over that game. He scored on a six yard run and threw a two point conversion to running back Timothy Scott (5-9, 180), cutting the lead in half with 10:32 to play.
After a Farmerville punt, Beckwith led an 89-yard drive capped by a 33-yard TD pass to Scott. He then ran in another two point conversion to tie the game.
With two minutes to play, Beckwith ran 85 yards for the game winning score. He finished with 126 yards rushing and 109 passing with two rushing scores and a TD pass.
“They have some really good athletes and wouldn’t have gotten this far with just one guy,” adds Cook. “He has made some plays to keep them alive and they will throw it on offense, but it’s not a one sided attack. They do have some size up front with several of those guys going both ways for them.”
Seniors Dequan Franklin (6-0, 235) and Chris Young (6-5, 265) anchor the defensive front and are two of the Tigers that play on both sides of the ball. They are joined on the offensive front by seniors Sam Williams (6-0, 255), Leroy Knighten (6-0, 210) and Deionte White (6-0, 310) for the biggest front the Pios defense has faced to date.
“They are quick and aggressive on defense,” continues Cook. “Plays that get 8 or 10 yards they can make it a 2 or 3 yard gain. They don’t give up many deep plays because they tend to stay back on defense, but they like to step around blocks and take some chances that makes it possible to maybe get some plays against them. We have to take what they give us and move the ball to keep it out of their hands.”