Notre Dame squares off with Kaplan for 5-AAA title
CROWLEY – The two teams are quite familiar with each other. They were in this same spot last season and neither is going to surprise the other at this stage of the game.
Instead, it will be the answer to one basic question when Kaplan and Notre Dame tee it up Thursday night for the District 5-3A title at Gardiner Stadium.
Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook already has the answer.
“This game is going to come down to who executes the best,” said Cook. “Defensively, they play an alignment we’ve seen several times this year. You always have a wrinkle or two that you try to look at where maybe you can use and that depends on a little something they may do differently than someone else.
“We don’t expect a whole lot of tricks or big changes to be involved and it’s a short week on top of everything else. It’s going to come down to execution.”
First year Kaplan coach Stephen Lotief has been well schooled in Notre Dame football. After several seasons as an assistant on the Pios’ staff, Lotief coached against Cook and Notre Dame the past seven years as head man at North Vermilion. So, both know what to expect.
The Pirates haven’t won a playoff game since the 90’s, losing the past two seasons by a combined six points, including 36-35 to Richwood last year. The Pirates have had an up and down year with their explosive offense, but still managed eight wins and a 4-0 mark in district.
Kaplan posted games with over 600 and 400 yards the first three weeks of the season. Key injuries resulted in struggling for league wins over Rayne and Erath. The Pirates appear to have healed up and should be at full strength against Notre Dame.
Running back Jalen Baker overcame academic problems at summer school and is back from a junior season of 14 touchdowns and just over a 1,000 yards. It took just five games to top those numbers as Baker rushed for 376 yards in a season opening win against West St. Mary (45-38) and has six games with over a 100 yards. After nine games, Baker totals 1486 rushing yards, has scored 13 TDs on the ground and caught four TD passes.
“They lost the fullback Sam Hoffpauir (5-10, 200, Jr) with a broken collarbone early on and used Baker at fullback for a while and weren’t as effective,” added Cook. “Baker is the guy that makes them go on the buck sweep and those type plays and he is a threat to go all the way on any play.”
Junior Kameron Abshire (6-0, 175) took over at quarterback for departed playmaker Marc Constable. Abshire hasn’t thrown a lot, but when he does it is for a completion over half the time and it usually results in a big play. His top target is Colin Gaspard with 15 catches and four touchdowns.
“Their game kind of revolves around the QB Abshire,” continues Cook. “He throws well enough to keep you off balance with what you can do. It’s not about just stopping the run. I’ve had the chance to see them in person when we played on a Thursday and Gaspard is bigger than you would think looking at film and is a real threat in the passing game.”
As talented and valuable as that trio is to the Kaplan attack, the glue may very well be senior Josh Greene (5-8, 170). The two way performer picked off a pass from his cornerback spot on defense and returned 60 yards for a score last week in the Pirates 36-21 win over Abbeville.
Greene bounced back from an early knee injury to take over at fullback and allow Baker to move back to the slot for outside running and catching. Greene has had nothing but big games since returning, rushing for 202 yards on 19 carries against North Vermilion and adding a scoring run and a TD catch to his defensive score last week. He certainly has the attention of Cook and the Pios.
“Greene is a good inside runner and at fullback he has been burning people up with the trap play. He is very quick to the hole, gets into the secondary before you know it and most of his yards have come off the trap play. With Greene, Abshire, Gaspard and Baker, they have four guys that can make a lot of plays.”
If execution becomes the key to winning, adjustment could be the key to executing and that is something Notre Dame does as well as any team. The approach may be the same at all levels, but still presents a challenge for high school coaches.
“When you have kids going both ways you don’t have the opportunity to sit them down and go over what we see is happening,” explains Cook. “We might make a change or two before the half, but usually you have to wait. At halftime we can get together and ask are they doing anything different than we expected, is one thing working better than another, or let’s take a look at these things to try in the second half against what they are doing. To me, it’s all about adjustments because very seldom do you get exactly what you thought you would see on both sides of the ball. A lot of times the game does come down to the adjustments that you make.”
The short week and Thursday night game may make adjustment a bigger factor. Either way, the game is big for players and fans. Oh, and there is a championship on the line.
“Right now, we’ve gotten to week 10 and it is just a matter of playing the game,” sums up Coach Cook. “We had a couple of days to work on some things and get a little better at what we are doing, but there is probably not going to be a whole lot of change. You pretty much hope you are where you need to be because after this week you live for one week at a time. In this particular game it is going to be who makes the plays and who executes on a consistent basis.
“We know one thing for sure, we will have a week 11. We want to win this game and we’re preparing like we do each week to be able to go out and play to win. What we don’t know at this point is if there will be a week 12. We always preach to finish what we started. So, I know they’ll play hard and prepare to play well. We’ll do the same and hope to keep it together and going forward into the playoffs.”