The best part of the 2019 season has arrived with the start of the playoffs this Thursday. Four of the Catholic League’s seven teams will be in action while No. 1 Rummel, No. 3 John Curtis and No. 4 Brother Martin all have byes into the quarterfinals.
One of the three games will feature a pair of Catholic League teams with No. 6 Jesuit hosting No. 11 Shaw Thursday at Tad Gormley. No. 8 St. Augustine will also suit up on Thursday against No. 9 Byrd at Yulman Stadium while No. 7 Holy Cross matches up with No. 10 St. Paul’s Friday at Tad Gormley.
There are two potential Catholic League matchups in the quarterfinals as St. Aug could face Rummel while the winner of Jesuit-Shaw will take on John Curtis. Brother Martin will see the winner between No. 5 Scotlandville and No. 12 McKinley, but let’s take a look at this week’s games before getting too far ahead of ourselves.
NO. 6 JESUIT (6-4) VS. NO. 11 SHAW (3-7)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Where: Tad Gormley Stadium.
Last Week: Jesuit lost to Rummel, 27-0, at Tad Gormley Stadium. Shaw beat H.L. Bourgeois, 35-3, at home.
Notable: Jesuit ran into the immovable force known as Rummel’s defense last week and they were shut out for the first time all season. They had plenty of opportunities to put points on the board, though, as they made their way inside Rummel’s 31-yard line six times, but were stopped on fourth down five times including an interception, and missed a 35-yard field goal just before the end of the first half. They did, however, manage to gain 263 yards of offense, and that was despite turning the ball over three different times to Rummel’s zero. The Blue Jays took one on the chin last week, but they should still be a confident group having won four of their last five before the Rummel game including a signature, 24-14, win over Hahnville in Week 9. They also ousted Shaw, 34-3, in Week 8 and should be able to produce a similar result Thursday night.
Shaw picked up a convincing 35-3 win over H.L. Bourgeois in Week 10, and it couldn’t have come at a much better time after losing six straight games, all against the stout competition in the Catholic League. The Eagles implemented a new wrinkle into their offense bringing sophomore receiver Isaiah Barnes into the backfield as a Wildcat quarterback, and the move paid big dividends as he rushed for 107 yards with two touchdowns on just 13 carries. Freshman running back Clint Langford Jr. was also highly effective on the ground rushing 12 times for 119 yards with another touchdown as Shaw recorded its largest margin of victory of the season. The Eagles were also competitive in Week 9 against St. Augustine going into the fourth quarter down 13-0, and it would be interesting to see how they could fare in a playoff bracket that didn’t include all the Catholic League teams once again. As detailed before, they’re by far the youngest group in 9-5A and the lumps they’ve taken this year in arguably Louisiana’s toughest district should help them in the years to come.
Pick: Jesuit, 34-7.
NO. 8 ST. AUGUSTINE (5-5) VS. NO. 9 BYRD (4-6)
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: Tulane’s Yulman Stadium.
Last Week: St. Augustine lost to Holy Cross, 42-41, in overtime at Tad Gormley. Byrd beat Southwood, 44-6, at home.
Notable: St. Aug has been Jekyll and Hyde in many aspects for much of the season and that was on full display last week against Holy Cross. The Purple Knights were dominant in the first half surging to a 27-7 lead at halftime that could have been even larger if not for an empty trip to the red zone. The offense did, however, score on its first three possessions, and that didn’t include an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jaheim Walters to start the game. But it was a completely different story in the second half as Holy Cross scored 28 unanswered points in the just the third quarter to take the lead. The Purple Knights showed some mental fortitude, though, battling back to tie the score with a two-point conversion with under a minute left, but they were ultimately doomed by special teams as they missed their second extra point of the game in overtime.
Despite the loss, the Purple Knights have played pretty well to close out the regular season winning two of three games going into last week, and the only loss was a 16-12 defeat to still-undefeated Rummel. Their defense is capable of keeping them in almost any game, and while the offense can be hit-or-miss, they’re a talented group that can put up flurries of points when they find their rhythm. St. Aug usually puts its best foot forward in big games competing with both Rummel and John Curtis into the fourth quarter, and one would think they’ll do the same Thursday night.
Byrd has had a pretty subpar season on the whole with two of their wins coming against non-playoff qualifiers and another against a 32 seed, but their fourth victory was a big one over No. 8 Airline in Week 8. Perhaps that’s a sign that the Yellow Jackets have a high ceiling as a team, or maybe it was just a result of being revved up to take on a district rival. The latter seems to be more likely as Byrd dropped early-season matchups against Brother Martin and West Monroe, 28-0, and, 24-0, respectively, but they’ve been playing their best ball of late winning four of their last six. Both of those losses were by just one point, and one of the them was against a middling playoff team in No. 15 Captain Shreve. The Yellow Jackets also prepared themselves for a potential trip to New Orleans from Shreveport with their Week 1 matchup against Brother Martin, and they certainly have a chance to take out the Purple Knights in this opening round contest.
Pick: St. Augustine, 20-14.
NO. 7 HOLY CROSS (5-5) VS. NO. 10 ST. PAUL’S (5-5)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Tad Gormley Stadium.
Last Week: Holy Cross beat St. Augustine, 42-41, in overtime at Tad Gormley. St. Paul’s defeated Fontainebleau, 35-0, at home.
Notable: Holy Cross pulled off one of the best comebacks of the season last week against St. Augustine. The Tigers flipped a 27-7 deficit at halftime into a 35-27 lead at the end of the third quarter, but still needed overtime to put the Purple Knights away. Senior running back Celven Hulbert did the honors for Holy Cross with a 10-yard touchdown run to tie the score, and sophomore Eli LaFrance won the game with his ensuing extra point. It was a much-needed win for the Tigers after losing three straight games against teams with a combined record of 28-3, and all three losses came against one another.
Holy Cross held true to its plan of establishing a running game even after the 20-point halftime deficit, and they employed a new Wildcat strategy to get it done. They put the ball in the hands of their best playmakers with junior Jalen Johnson and junior Jaden Handy taking snaps at quarterback in place of the Catholic League’s leading passer, junior John Dade Wooton. Those two remained in the backfield for the vast majority of the contest alongside Hulbert and junior Amiri Franklin, who had one of the group’s three touchdown runs as well as an 82-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half. The four of them rushed for 235 yards combined on 37 attempts, which was good for an average of 6.4 yards per carry. As coach Guy LeCompte pointed out following the game, the Tigers are confident in their passing game, but their lack of success on the ground throughout the year had been their “achilles heal.” If their new plan of attack continues to be effective, it will certainly serve them well as Holy Cross could have one of the most complete offenses in the Division I playoffs.
It’s been an up-and-down season for St. Paul’s and they’ll head into the playoffs winning two of their last four games including a Week 10 matchup against Fontainebleau, 35-0. It was their third shutout of the season and their fourth win of 31 points or more. The Wolves have really only been challenged in one of their wins, which was an impressive, 19-16, victory over Jesuit in Week 2. They’ve certainly been challenged, though, with nine of their 10 opponents in Class 5A, and three of those are top seven seeds while three others are also playoff teams. The Wolves won’t be intimidated when they walk into Tad Gormley Friday night and they may have some extra motivation as well as last year’s season ended on that same field against Jesuit, 21-17, in the first round of the Division I playoffs.
Pick: Holy Cross, 35-17.