By BRET H. MCCORMICK, Journal Sports
It’s Underdog Week in Rapides Parish.
All four of the parish teams remaining in the football playoffs will hit the road to play tonight at schools with higher seeds.
In Division I Select, No. 10 Tioga will travel to Covington to face No. 7 St. Paul’s while No. 13 Alexandria Senior High heads to Metairie to play No. 4 Brother Martin at Joe Yenni Stadium on the campus of East Jefferson High School.
No. 14 Peabody also heads south as the Warhorses will travel to play No. 3 Lafayette Christian in the second round of the Division II Select playoffs, while No. 15 Menard travels north along Interstate 49 to Shreveport to play No. 2 Calvary Baptist in Division III Select.
Tioga (9-2) is the highest-seeded parish team remaining and faces the smallest disparity in seed differential against St. Paul’s (9-1), which has won eight straight games after a Week 2 loss to Brother Martin.
St. Paul’s is led by 25th-year head coach Ken Sears. Junior quarterback Brennan Keim triggers the offense, and the Wolves use a stable of running backs, including sophomore Cody Corales.
The Wolves won an extremely competitive District 6-5A, which included four straight wins of three points or less. Junior kicker Drew Talley has been clutch for St. Paul’s in big moments.
Tioga coach Kevin Cook said he has a lot of respect for Sears and the consistent program he’s built.
“They’re gonna be very well-coached,” Cook said. “You’re not gonna trick ‘em. You’re just gonna have to play as solid of football as you’ve ever played in your life and catch some breaks along the way.”
Cook said he doesn’t expect the Indians to stray too far from what has led to their success this season, which is a strong running game and sound defense. Junior Travis Adams has rushed for 903 yards and 15 touchdowns despite missing three games due to injury.
Adams is coming off a 245-yard, 5-touchdown performance against L.W. Higgins in the first round, and while Cook said he would like to throw the ball more, last week’s rainy conditions weren’t conducive to that.
“I think in the playoffs, if a team is diversified, they have an advantage,” Cook said, “but at the same time, you’ve got to do what got you there and not try to do something you’re not.”
ASH (7-4) will take its balanced offense – led by senior quarterback Ty Feaster and junior running back JT Lindsey – and try to knock off last year’s Division I Select runner-up.
Feaster, who has gotten stronger as the season has progressed, has passed for 1,925 yards and 27 touchdowns, while Lindsey has compiled 1,299 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
Brother Martin (7-3) is the only team to defeat St. Paul’s this season and is battled-tested with a tie for second place in the Catholic League, arguably the deepest district in the state. The Crusaders’ three losses are to three of the state’s powers year after year, and this year — St. Thomas More, Edna Karr and John Curtis.
The two teams have one common opponent in STM, which defeated ASH 49-21 in Week 2 and Brother Martin 41-7 in Week 3. That Trojan team is quite different from the one that will step on the field Friday night, especially on defense as seniors Amyrion Mingo and Jaylin Johnson are now starting at cornerback.
Brother Martin is led by second-year starter Seth Dazet at quarterback, but the Crusaders did most of their damage defensively this season. Coach Mark Bonis praised his team’s defense to Crescent City Sports after the Crusaders’ Week 10 win over St. Augustine, saying that side of the ball “is why we are in this position” as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
Peabody (7-4) faces perhaps the toughest task of any parish team against LSU commitment Ju’Juan Johnson. Johnson, the Knights’ senior quarterback who led LCA to back-to-back state runner-up finishes the past two seasons, has compiled nearly 13,000 yards of total offense in his career.
Johnson has thrown for 2,489 yards and 32 touchdowns this season while rushing for 1,079 yards and another 18 TDs. He sits 691 yards shy of former Evangel Christian quarterback Brock Berlin’s state record of 13,659 career total yards (combined passing and rushing).
Peabody coach Harry Coleman said he knows the challenge his Warhorses face against Johnson and the Knights, but he feels like he has some weapons of his own to unleash Friday night.
“I know the cards are stacked against us, but like I said everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time,” Coleman said. “I’ve been challenging them all season. It’s just another week. The quarterback at LCA, he’s really good, but I got some real good guys here, too, so they got to deal with us, too.”
Menard, meanwhile, also squares off against an elite quarterback in Calvary junior Abram Wardell. Wardell finished second in the state in passing, completing 80 percent of his passes for 2,921 yards with 33 touchdowns and only one interception.
Senior Aubrey Hermes (49-948, 12 TDs) is Wardell’s top target, but the Cavs have plenty of offensive weapons, including Louisiana Tech commitment John Simon (37-676, 7 TDs) and junior running back James Simon (849 yards, 13 TDs), who has offers from LSU, TCU and others.
Menard’s defense, led by seniors Cooper Scott and Drake Aldredge, has been the Eagles’ bread and butter all season, but they will face their toughest task of the season this week.