LSN STAFF WRITER
CROWLEY – Eight weeks into the regular season and District 5-3A is right where it was expected to be. Top ranked Notre Dame and Kaplan are unbeaten in league play and headed toward a week ten showdown.
Before that can play out, the Pios host North Vermilion in a Thursday night game that was originally slated for Gardiner Memorial Stadium but moved to St. Thomas More in Lafayette due to wet field conditions. With a loss to Kaplan already on the board, the Patriots are backed against the wall in the district race. North Vermilion appears headed for a playoff date, but will need a win over the Pios to keep their league title hopes alive.
The Pats have been a little hard to read. Though Coach Stephen Lotief has guided his team to a 6-2 record, even in victory the numbers are a little puzzling.
The Pats won three straight before a 14-13 loss at E.D. White. After a 39-6 win over Franklin, North Vermilion opened district play by defeating Abbeville, 21-14.
Against Kaplan, the Patriots committed four second half turnovers that turned a 7-0 game into a 35-7 Pirates win. Last week, North Vermilion scored an unimpressive 14-0 win over Rayne.
“Some injuries over the last couple of weeks have slowed them down a little bit,” noted Pios coach Louis Cook. “Being an option team, everything starts up front for them and they lost one of their better linemen which has caused them to be not as effective on offense as earlier in the year.”
Quarterback Jarred Broussard (5-9, 170, Sr) leads the Patriot offense. The three year starter threw for 680 yards last year, but this season has completed just seven passes with three of those coming last week. In three games, the Pats had no yardage at all through the air and didn’t even attempt a pass against E.D. White.
Broussard triggers the Pats option attack and has done damage with his feet this season. When he dishes the ball, it has been mostly to seniors Jeremy Ryder (5-8, 160) on the edges and Anthony Williams (6-0, 220) inside. Every game there seems to be a new name in the box score, like sophomore Jeremy James with 79 yards against E.D. White. Last Friday against Rayne, junior Jabian Kerr had nine carries for 80 yards.
“They’ll come at us very similar to what we saw against Erath,” continued coach Cook. “They’ll try to grind it out, not put it up in the air, and make us play the pitch. We’ll have to be disciplined because they will come at us hard and make us work for everything on both sides of the ball. They’ve had some good defensive efforts against some pretty good teams.”
The Pats returned eight defensive starters from last season after going 4-5 with a 3-2 league mark. North Vermilion lacks size up front and the leader of the pack is Anthony Williams who will play both ways which could be a disadvantage as the game goes on.
For Notre Dame, the pieces seem to be coming together at the right time.
The defense has been simply dominant with three straight shutouts in district play. The offense is healthy after some minor nicks and scrapes, the running game is back to compliment a big play passing game and the options available to Coach Lewis Cook are making his play calling a lot of fun and much more reminiscent of the clock eating drives that have characterized his teams.
“We did make a few changes up front from the first game of the year,” explains Cook. “We moved some guys around to better suit what we were trying to do and we’ve got three guys in different spots than where they started. We also had some guys fill in for injuries and they did such a good job that we’ve worked them into the mix up front now with everyone healthy. That has given us more flexibility and made us better.”
There were some serious concerns about that running game after some trying moments in the early season. Those adjustments over the past six games have made the ground attack look a lot more like Notre Dame teams of old.
What is still missing, and it is by choice, is that 20-carry per game, hundred yard running back. The duties are being shared by a trio of starters and each gives the offense a different strength to exploit defenses.
Marshall Watson has gained 314 yards with six touchdowns from the fullback spot and gets the call for tough inside play. Stu Cook is a multi threat with 310 yards rushing, will sometimes take snaps from the “Wild Pio” formation, and has 21 receptions for 228 yards. Cook has 7 touchdowns rushing and 3 receiving. Logan Venable is the change of pace back with a quick burst and leads the team with 380 yards and over six yards a carry with six TDs. Nick Gossen (204 yards) and Luke Besse (121 yards) have also been used to share the wealth and carry out the plan.
The system may not be the norm in a lot of places, but for the Pios it has been a big success over the past two seasons. Senior fullback Marshall Watson has seen the advantage it presents for his team.
“I think it’s only natural if you’re a competitor to want the ball on every play. But we understand what it means to all of us and how it helps the team by spreading it around. We switched out most of the regular season last year and when we were ahead late in games we got some other guys on the field for experience. It meant a lot to us when we got to the playoffs because we weren’t beat up and we were able to avoid injuries and stay fresh. It works for us and hopefully it will again help us to be a better team.”
The Pios running tandem has five games with over 200 yards and is averaging 188 yards per outing. That success has complimented a passing game led by quarterback Ryan Leonards and his “go to” receiver Morgan Allen.
Leonards went over 1,000 yards for the season with a 213 yard performance last week and has thrown 12 TD passes. The senior has guided ND to seven straight games with over a hundred yards in the air. Allen had four catches for 101 yards and a score last week against Abbeville. For the season, Allen has a team leading 23 catches for 568 yards and has taken it in for five scores.
North Vermilion needs a win to have any chance at sharing the league title. Kaplan is waiting next week and will probably be unbeaten in district play when they host the Pios. The question now is will Notre Dame also win out. Coach Lewis Cook has his team aware that the competition is taking a step up over the next two weeks.
“Our team has been bouncing around pretty good at practice and they know there’s a sense of urgency ahead. The players know the next two games will be against better teams with winning records and both have a lot on the line. Everyone here has a lot of respect for coach Lotief and what he has done at North Vermilion and we’ll start with that game this week. We have to take some bigger strides now with the season winding down and let that get us ready for the playoffs.”