Pioneers travel to Kaplan for 5-AAA title game
By Tom Brown
LSN STAFF WRITER
CROWLEY – The teams can now stop avoiding questions about Week 10.
The stars have all aligned, the universe is in order and all the crystal balls are packed and stored away until next year. Week 10 is here!
Just as predicted back in August, the final week of the regular season brings together Notre Dame and Kaplan for all the marbles in District 5-3A.
“I expect it to be a great game,” noted Pios coach Lewis Cook. “It should be a playoff atmosphere type game, big crowd, a lot of fun for both teams. But I think it is important to keep in mind that both teams have gotten to a point in the season where they are guaranteed another week of play.”
The unbeaten Pios will roll into Kaplan virtually unblemished as the top ranked team in 3A. Kaplan is unbeaten in the district with just one setback for the season that came on an error prone night five weeks ago by way of three lost fumbles, two of those inside the ten-yard line, and an interception that was returned for a TD in a 21-13 loss at Iowa.
This should probably be a game between two unbeaten teams, but that’s why they keep score. It is a game for the district championship and while that certainly has meaning, it’s not the golden carrot dangling in front of either team. Both are headed for a high seeding when the playoffs begin next week and this is a mere bump in the road.
“It obviously matters because we’ve gotten to this point and we would like to finish it,” continued Cook. “Like I told our coaches, though, we’re not going to load up on one game. It means something to us, but we have some more playing to do and week eleven is the one we have to win to keep things going. The big thing for us is we hope to play well, keep everybody healthy and come out of the game a little better than we went into it to and then get ready for the playoffs.”
The Pirates are in their second year under head coach Brent Indest. After successful stops at Abbeville and Crowley, Indest has quickly rejuvenated the Kaplan program.
The Pirates finished 6-4 last season and then lost to Redemptorist in the first round of the playoffs. There were some key ingredients that departed after the turnaround season, but the Pirates haven’t missed a beat with players stepping in and taking the Kaplan program to even greater heights.
Offensively, Kaplan operates from the Wing T set which brings three running backs and the quarterback into play on every snap. The Pirates have added a few wrinkles like the belly option into the scheme in order to take advantage of a talented backfield.
Senior Marc Constable (5-8, 155) triggers the offense which is averaging 380 yards a game. A former wide receiver, Constable made the switch to utilize his elusive running ability for Indest’s ground oriented attack. The payback has been off the charts for Constable and the Pirates who have rushed for 2,694 yards in nine games. The diminutive quarterback has “juked” his way to 488 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Constable hasn’t been asked to throw that often mostly because he hasn’t had to with the success of the ground game. When he has put it in the air, Constable has been very effective with 623 yards and five TDs.
“He can make things happen with his feet and he makes their offense go,” explains Cook. “The wing T gets all four backs involved and Constable is the guy that sets it up and his ability makes the trap play effective for them. Their running back Baker gets more carries, but Constable is the scariest of them all. He picks his spots and throws well enough to keep you honest on defense.”
A trio of talented running backs has shared leading roles this season. Junior Jalen Baker (5-11, 175) has his number called most often and has responded with five games of over 100 yards. Three weeks ago, Baker logged a 160-yard night against North Vermilion and last week ran for 163 yards against Abbeville. Those performances against two of the better rushing defenses on the Kaplan schedule got Baker to 941 yards and 10 touchdowns for the season. Twice he has gone over 170 yards and can go the distance with a 92-yard scoring run to his credit.
Sophomore fullback Sam Hoffpauir has rushed for 570 yards, has two 100-yard games and has added four touchdowns. Senior Derrick Becker (5-11, 180) has pitched in with 417 yards and five scores.
While all those numbers are impressive, Notre Dame has some defensive figures that warrant some attention. Keeping in mind that the football field is a hundred yards long, the Pios are allowing teams a meager 135 yards of total offense per contest and only once has a team rushed for over 77 yards in a game.
That won’t get you from one side of the field to the end zone on the other side very many times. And that is why the Pios have given up just 48 total points all season.
Kaplan has not faced a defense like what Notre Dame will field and likewise this will undoubtedly be the toughest matchup of the season for the Pios. Notre Dame has logged four straight shutouts in league play and keeping Kaplan off the scoreboard will be a tall task.
The same holds true for the Pirates defense. They face what may very well be the most effective offense coach Cook has guided at Notre Dame. Past teams may have offered better individual players at some positions or better phases of the game. None have seemed to put it together with the versatility of the current Pios.
Running backs Marshall Watson, Stu Cook and Logan Venable have combined for over 1,100 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. The addition of the “Wild Pio” has enabled Cook to assemble a highlight reel just from his snaps out of that formation.
Quarterback Ryan Leonards has thrown for 1,206 yards and 13 TDs. Leonards has completed over 60 percent of his passes and averages 16 yards per completion.
Senior wide out Morgan Allen has been the top target with 26 catches for 612 yards and five touchdowns. Stu Cook has the next biggest chunk lining up in the slot or circling out of the backfield to grab 22 receptions for 221 yards and three TDs. Tight end Matt Leleux has added to the versatile attack by slipping out for a pair of TD catches.
And now there is another weapon added to the arsenal. Over the past few weeks, junior receiver Zac D’Aquin has stepped up with some big catches. D’Aquin had 103 yards on four catches including a 40-yard touchdown against North Vermilion. He has established himself as another threat to be contended with in the passing game and yet another option for coach Cook.
“The good thing about it is that by bringing Zac into the mix as we have, he’s been able to gain a lot of confidence. Zac has made some big plays for us the past few weeks and has given us another option, another weapon that defenses now have to be aware of and that should help us on offense even more.”
The whole purpose for playing a schedule is to get to this point. Notre Dame and Kaplan have traveled a road that has distanced them from the rest of District 5-3A. The league title will be on the line Friday night in Kaplan, but it will be small consolation for either team if about a month from now the road doesn’t lead to the Superdome.