Pios host Thomas Jefferson in opening round of playoffs

CROWLEY – On the up side, Notre Dame secured the seventh unbeaten regular season under head coach Lewis Cook with last week’s win at Kaplan. On the down side, it came with not a whole lot of competition in District 6-3A play. Pios starters were on the field less than half the time over the past five weeks, but Cook feels his team is prepared for the playoffs.
“I think we have been challenged and faced some difficult situations over the course of the season. We have a lot of guys that played 15 weeks last year and have been under the gun for us. Those veteran guys understand what is ahead. They’ve been there and had the chance to perform. Hopefully, the rest should be more important than having to play down to the last minute.”
The Pios will host Thomas Jefferson in the first round of the select division two playoffs. The Jaguars, out of Gretna just across the river from New Orleans, were runner up in District 10-3A.
“You can see on the game films that they are coached up pretty good, ready to play and execute well on offense,” noted Pios coach Lewis Cook. “They are a young team with not a lot of seniors, but they have still been able to put together some nice drives to come from behind and win games.”
The return of J-Mike was an obvious boost to the Pios offense against Kaplan. John Michael Besse touched the ball 17 times for 218 yards of offense. Besse ran for 179 yards, averaging twelve yards per carry, and scored three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 39 yards.
“He is a receiver when you need him, he’s the guy to turn the corner for you and he’s not bad running inside because he hits the hole so quick,” explained Cook. “There is no doubt he makes a difference in our offense, especially at this point of the year because you design and call things for the personnel you have to be able to utilize everything you can do and J-Mike is in the center of everything.”
Football is a game of adjustments and Notre Dame has made it a clinic over the years. The ability to counter the schemes which don’t necessarily show up when scouting game films is a big key to success and will be even more important this week as the playoffs begin.
Against an opponent like Thomas Jefferson, with no history against the Pios, it actually starts in week one. Cook feels the foundation has been laid to apply on both sides of the ball where, for example, on offense Cook tries to keep opponents guessing.
“One of our favorite plays, and something we have done well over the years, is what we call the G play, which is an off tackle run by the fullback. Against North Vermilion, we were running that play out of a different look than we have shown all year. We knew it was not going to be as effective and it might not have looked as good, but we were moving the football. We were being patient, trying to break tendencies, trying to counter the type of scheming we see from week to week in order to keep the other team off balance.”
Big Play of the Game – Kade Smith and Zach Henry – On the first snap of the night, Kaplan ran dive option off right tackle and Kade Smith came off the edge to stand up the Pirates running back and force a fumble that Zach Henry recovered at the Kaplan 29 yard line. The Pios took it in for a score and on that first play of the night, the game was over for Kaplan.
John Michael Besse – He is the glue that brings the offense together because of the options he presents. J-Mike now has 831 yards rushing and 281 yards receiving on a team leading 19 catches. Besse has 12 rushing scores and 5 receiving TDs.
Pios Defense - Wrapped the regular season with only 82 points scored against Notre Dame and only half of those came against the starting unit. Opponents did not score against the Pios in the first quarter all season and in league play, the starting unit did not allow a touchdown and the only points allowed were a 51 yard second quarter field goal by North Vermilion.
Thomas Jefferson came on strong to win five of its last six games and finish 6-4 on the season. The Jags scored 21 first quarter points against Miller McCoy in the week nine District 10 title game, but gave up 313 passing yards and didn’t score again in a 35-21 loss to settle for second.
Coach Kevin Kelly has used two quarterbacks in his offense this season with junior Tyler Lavergne (5-11, 175) stepping up to take most of the snaps down the stretch. Lavergne has completed 27 of 46 passes for 479 yards and six touchdowns. Three of those scoring passes came in last week’s 37-20 win over John McDonogh.
Junior Ty Butler (6-1, 185) has thrown for 296 yards and two TDs on 24 of 60 passing. Butler has spent most of his time as a leader in the defensive secondary.
Thomas Jefferson will run some spread, but mostly operate the offense from the I formation. Fullback David Lewis (6-0, 190, Soph) and tailback Donte Sincere (5-9, 200 Soph) handle the carries. Sincere ran for 102 yards and three TDs in a 31-0 win over Clark. In a 28-21 win over St, Martin, Sincere carried 19 times for 130 yards to lead the Jags to over 300 yards on the ground. Lewis had a rushing score last week and also caught a four yard TD pass.
Wide receiver Clyde Thomas (5-10, 180, Sr) has scored in each of the last four games and is the top target with 23 receptions for 331 yards. He also plays cornerback on defense as does Isaiah Williams (6-2, 175 Jr) who lines up across the formation at split end and is also a defensive leader at cornerback.
Thomas Jefferson gives multiple looks with three and four man fronts across the defensive line. The Jags move around with different looks and active linebackers in junior Ronald Smith (5-10, 205) and sophomore Anthony Synigal (6-0, 160).
“They will play a lot of man coverage and really come after you on defense,” added Cook. “They create a lot of problems trying to figure out where they are going to be and it is kind of a hit or miss situation. We will probably limit our choices to a hand full of plays that it doesn’t matter where they are for us to be successful.”
With so many area teams at home in the first round of the playoffs, N.D. will host Thomas Jefferson on Thursday night at Gardiner Stadium in Crowley. Kickoff is 7pm.

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