An intriguing matchup between Shaw and Belle Chasse is set for the Walk-On’s VSN New Orleans Game of the Week for Week 2.
Both the Eagles and Cardinals enter Friday’s 7 p.m. contest at Shaw at 1-0 and the two teams have become increasingly familiar with each other over the past decade. They have faced each other in six of the last eight seasons splitting those meetings with three wins apiece.
Belle Chasse has had the upper-hand as of late, though, with two straight triumphs including a gutsy, 12-10, victory last year at home. The Eagles, however, appear to be on the fast track in terms of improvement, and opened the season with a convincing 51-20 win over Higgins.
That impressive showing came on the back of a 19-6 win over Riverdale in Shaw’s jamboree and the Eagles are looking to build on their recent success against the Cardinals.
“So far, so good,” Shaw coach Tommy Connors began. “We’re excited to grow and see what we’ve got and mature week-to-week. We want to see what we’re going to be (as a team), what we’re going to rely on and after a week you start to see what you have and you try to put weeks of (what works well) together.”
The Eagles’ defense was especially productive last week forcing a pair of early turnovers that led to a quick 14-0 lead. A blocked punt was then returned for a touchdown and the foundation had been laid for a big win for Shaw as they led 23-0 after the opening quarter.
Senior defensive back Dorian Lewis had another interception for the Eagles after snagging two picks in the jamboree, and junior defensive end Baron Miles continues to establish himself as an impact player.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder returned a fumble for a touchdown and also had 11 tackles with four sacks in the opener against Higgins.
“On defense we had a lot of turnovers that led to touchdowns that really set the tone,” said Miles, who recorded 35 tackles with five sacks as a sophomore and gave a bit of insight regarding what has aided his early improvement. “I’ve been going to GLS (Training) doing a lot of field work, a lot of weight lifting at school and just a lot of hard work.”
The Eagle offense also put in work with senior quarterback Tyler Nichol tossing a pair of touchdown passes, and Connors was especially pleased with Shaw’s rushing attack to close out the win which included a pair of touchdown runs covering 1 and 29 yards.
The ground game is sure to be a key factor in Friday’s contest, particularly from Belle Chasse’s perspective. The Cardinals have traditionally employed an under-center, triple-option offensive attack, but seem to have opened things up a bit as of late with more shotgun sets that hold many of the same principles as the triple-option.
The slight change could give Belle Chasse a better chance to get the ball downfield when needed, which would be a welcome adjustment for the Cardinals’ newest addition in sophomore quarterback Stephen Banford Jr.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder started one game last season at Warren Easton as a freshman, and appeared to be next in a lineage of standout signal callers. After a strong spring and summer with the Eagles, Banford suddenly transferred following Easton’s fall camp in Mississippi, and dropped into the Cardinals’ lap just weeks before the start of the season.
“We’re going to try and incorporate him into the offense as we go,” explained Belle Chasse coach Stephen Meyers regarding Banford, a native of Belle Chasse. “He played a few downs last week and this will be the first time he’ll get more extensive time.”
The Cardinals were already in good hands at the quarterback spot with senior leader Jordan Mariana returning as a multi-year starter, and he’s still expected to get the starting nod on Friday. But even when Banford does take the field, the 5-foot-7, 175-pounder will still be heavily involved as he’ll shift to the running back spot.
“I think it’s a big addition,” Mariana said of Banford joining the team. “They’re going to rotate me in at running back, and I think with me and him in the backfield that’s going to be trouble. It’s going to be a lot for a defense and they won’t really know what’s coming. We can air it out or we can run the ball, and subbing him in gives me a break sometimes mentally. It just makes me more prepared and ready to come out here and work.”
Mariana and the Cardinal offense wasn’t as efficient as it would have liked to be last week in a rivalry game against South Plaquemines putting up just one score in a 6-0 win.
Belle Chasse does, however, have several players capable of making big plays including junior athlete Twillie Lovett, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder who plays a key role for the Cardinals on offense, defense and special teams as well.
The same can be said for senior leader Brendon Groves, who makes his biggest impact at defensive end but will also line up at tight end. The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder can be a physical force at the line of scrimmage and was proud of his team’s effort defensively last week against the Hurricanes.
“We just played with intensity,” Groves said. “We gave a lot of effort and that’s what we’re about — alignment, assignment and effort. When we got out on the field, that’s all we thought about.”
“Defensively we did everything we had to do,” Lovett added. “Like we do every game, we came out and we were aggressive. Offensively, we’re going to get better, score more, learn our offense more and get better throughout the season.”
The Cardinals hope to eventually duplicate the production of last year’s offense that put up at least 30 points in six of the team’s 10 regular season games.
Shaw is also hoping to have a high-powered offense with an increased tempo this year, which would be bolstered by a defense that is off to a hot start to begin 2019.
“Everybody’s been playing together as a team and as one unit,” said Shaw junior safety Dawson Guidry, who had an interception last week against Higgins as well as in the jamboree against Riverdale. “That really drove us through that game (against Higgins) and that brings confidence going into this week that we can keep it going together.”
“It looks like Shaw is definitely improving,” Meyers said. “They’re scoring a bunch of points in the jamboree and last week against Higgins they put 50-something points. They’re going to be tough and we’re going to have to play our best game to compete with them.”
Shaw vs. Belle Chasse recent history
2018: Belle Chasse, 12-10
2017: Belle Chasse, 16-0
2016: Shaw, 20-7
2015: Shaw, 49-34
2012: Shaw, 21-10
2011: Belle Chasse, 26-7