Defense highlights Game of the Week
BY CHRIS QUEBEDEAUX
CROWLEY – One of the most familiar adages in football is that defense wins championships.
And that may very well be the case on Friday when the Notre Dame Pioneers host Crowley High in a much-anticipated showdown that will determine the District 5-AAA championship for the third time in four years.
The game will be played at Rayne High School and will also be CST’s (Cox Sports Television) Game of the Week.
For the statistically-minded, the Pios are giving up just nine points per game through seven outings while the Gents are allowing just over 15. In addition, the Pios have yielded just seven points in district play while the Gents have posted two shutouts in league action.
Coaches for both teams say the development of their defenses has been a big part of their teams’ successes.
Notre Dame (7-0, 2-0) returned five starters from last year’s district championship team - Seth Fruge, Chance Oustalet, D.J. Welter, Jacob Molbert and Nick Ware. However, four of those five find themselves in new positions.
“It was like starting from scratch again,” said Notre Dame defensive coordinator James McCleary. “In August, there were a lot of adjustments that needed to be made. In the beginning, we weren’t as good as we are now, obviously.
“It was a growing process every week and it’s continuing to grow. We’re definitely not the defense we were in Week One. We always felt like we had a high ceiling with the defense and that we had a chance to improve as they got more experience.
“I think that was the biggest thing. They didn’t have much experience and as they gained more experience, they became more and more difficult (for teams) to deal with.”
Notre Dame’s defensive unit has not looked like an inexperienced group at all, however.
Since opening the 2008 season at Breaux Bridge, the Pios has given up 100 yards or more rushing just once and over 100 yards passing twice. On the season, the Pios have given up just 956 total yards of offense and have also forced 17 turnovers.
McCleary was unaware of the total numbers and, admittedly, he didn’t really worry about them either.
“We just want to get them (defense) off the field, keep a short field for the offense and let them have a good chance to get a score.,” said McCleary. “As for as yards and stuff like that, as long as they don’t put up more points than us, that’s what we’re aiming for.
“All those other things are great and everything, but it doesn’t amount to much if you don’t get a W.”
For the Gents, defense has also been a growing process.
The Gents’ defense struggled early on, which is not surprising considering CHS faced high-powered offensive opponents like Cecilia and Patterson (both AAA Top 10 teams).
But in recent weeks, the Gents have strung together three straight solid defensive performances, two of which were shutouts - Rayne and Church Point - while giving up just one touchdown to Class 5A’s 10th-ranked Higgins.
“I think the kids are starting to believe in themselves a little bit and they’ve had some success,” said CHS defensive coach Cedric Figaro. “After going through that meat grinder of Cecilia and Patterson, that kind of brought us back to reality. The kids just stuck with it and now we’re starting to see the fruits of our labor.”
In the last three games, the CHS defense, led by linemen Jordan Ancelet and Ian Lemaire, has given up a total of 389 yards and just one touchdown. In the Higgins’ contest, the Gents limited the Hurricanes to just 114 yards. Against a Church Point team that was averaging better than 300 yards a game, they gave up just 121.
“All of those teams (Rayne, Higgins and Church Point) were moving the ball pretty well at that time,” said Figaro. “I think some of those teams kind of played into our strengths and it just showed out.
“We’re playing aggressive, we’re getting to the ball and we’re having fun. I think that’s the biggest key. The kids are having fun and anytime you have fun, you do it hard. These kids are working hard for us.”
Ancelet led the charge against Church Point with four tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the end zone. Lemaire had eight tackles, a sack and caused a fumble. Calvin Lewis also had a big game with 15 tackles – six solo and nine assists.
For Notre Dame, taking away the run has been the key in all seven games. The Pios have limited their opponents to just 427 yards on the ground thus far.
“We try to make teams one-dimensional because we feel that if you can’t run, you can’t win,” said McCleary. “It’s kind of an old-school mentality. Like Bear Bryant used to say, ‘When they throw the ball, three things can happen and only one of them is good.’
“That’s the philosophy that we have: stop the run and force them to throw. We know they have great teams with great quarterbacks and great receivers and they are going to make plays on us. We just hope that we can be consistent enough that they are forced to throw it that many times and we take our chances here and there.”
Crowley High has faced numerous challenges in 2008, but Figaro knows that Friday’s game could be the toughest yet. After all, the Pios are averaging just over 36 points per game.
“This is the ultimate test,” said Figaro. “They (Notre Dame) haven’t lost; they have gone to the state championship; they have won many state championships; they have great coaches and great players.
“Everything about them is what we aspire to be. In order to get there, we have to play those guys and do well against them. They are playing really well right now. I mean they are blowing teams out by the second quarter so this is a big, huge challenge for us defensively and as a team.”