Six football games to watch this week as the 106th high school season opens in and around the Crescent City will have a profound effect on the state rankings.
Fans won't have to wait long for the first kickoff, which will take place on Wednesday under the pines surrounding Hunter Stadium when host St. Paul's meets Edna Karr at 6:30 p.m.
St. Paul's agreed to stage this game in the middle of the week to accommodate its Algiers opponent, which has a 10 a.m. Labor Day game scheduled against Arlington Bowie in the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic at Cowboys Stadium.
This weekend's openers around town feature three local prep football traditional games: The Battle of the Archbishops – Rummel and Shaw – for the "Megaphone," the great rivalry between St. Augustine and McDonogh 35, and the annual game between East Jefferson and its "Adam's Rib," Bonnabel.
This is also a week where it is common for teams from different classes to face off, and the biggest of which will be Class 4A Franklinton against 2A dynamo John Curtis.
Here's my six of interest:
Edna Karr at St. Paul's – Karr's impressive 17-6 victory over St. Augustine in the Purple Knights' jamboree last week caught the eye of the statewide voters who chose Karr as the No. 1 team in Class 4A. The host Wolves are the No. 9 ranked team in Class 5A. Both are expected to win their respective districts.
Karr lost the 2010 season-opener at St. Paul's 28-12, then reeled off 13 straight victories before falling to Franklinton, 34-28, in the 4A championship game. And don't think Coach Jabbar Juluke hasn't reminded his Cougars of that setback.
St. Paul's has lost a great deal of talent from last year's District 7-5A championship team, but coach Ken Sears always has his team prepared and the Wolves are extremely difficult to beat at home. They don't make a lot of mistakes and have a penchant for capitalizing on their opponents' errs.
Battle of the Archbishops – Set for Hoss Memtsas Stadium on Saturday at 2 p.m., neither Rummel nor Shaw will be short of incentive and determination in this renewal of the rivalry that dates back to 1964. And the series is almost as close as it gets. Rummel's 28-26 win last year gave the visiting Raiders a 24-23 lead over the Eagles, which capped an otherwise disappointing 4-6 campaign for each of the two.
Rummel has improved greatly with the maturation of quarterback Damien Williams, who will be the most experienced QB in District 9-5A this season. Coach Jay Roth's Raiders also have good size and speed in both the offensive and defensive backfields. Not favored to win in a district that has Jesuit and West Jefferson as the early choices, but Roth's team is always prepared.
Coach Scott Bairnsfather had a great deal of success in Class 4A prior to moving up a notch in 2008. His Eagles are again in 4A where they went to the state championship in three successive years. Yet, few are giving Bairnafather and his staff credit as a title contender in their district (9-4A), and rightfully so, considering it also has Karr, McDonogh 35 and O. Perry Walker with which to contend.
But Shaw served notice that it was no pushover with jamboree wins over John Ehret and district mate Helen Cox last week. One thing is for sure when these two get together on Saturday: pads will pop!
Hahnville vs. Jesuit – Talk about not showing respect; Coach Lou Valdin's Tigers, whose reputation for winning has been impeccable for two decades, hardly registered on the 5A chart in the preseason poll. Sure, they lost a great deal of offensive firepower to graduation, but they have enough material to field a winning team again.
On the other hand, Jesuit has just one question mark: how will coach Wayde Keiser's two-quarterback system play out in real time? He has a fleet-footed senior Cameron Dobbins, who cans also pass a bit and a 6-2 junior passer in Tanner Lee, who can run a bit.
What the Blue Jays have for sure are playmakers at key positions, including the All-State placekicker in Ralph Freibert, possibly the best middle linebacker in the city in Nebraska-commitment Deion Jones and two productive running backs in seniors Austin Duncan and Paul Stanton. Throw in a large offensive line led by 6-5, 265 tackle Todd Jacquet and 6-3, 200 tight end Jay Pyburn and a cast of intelligent athletes, and you have the makings of another winning season.
East Jefferson vs. Bonnabel – The two East Bank publics may have gone in different directions in class, but the rivalry is as healthy as any. And the game being played at the mutual field at Muss Bertolino Playground on Saturday at 8 p.m. is no advantage to either team.
East Jeff has been a Class 4A competitor for several years, but the Warriors are favored to beat the 5A Bruins. Coach Nick Saltaformaggio's EJ team is a possible playoff contender even though it is probably the No. 3 choice in District10-4A behind St. Augustine and Holy Cross. It has a true super player in strong safety Derrick Raymond and a significant number of experienced players around its new quarterback.
On the other hand, Bonnabel is a Class 5A school that has enjoyed little success in the recent past because of its location and shaky coaching situation under former Principal John Kulakowski, who cleaned house of most of his school's head coaches before the Jefferson Parish School Board gave him the boot (sorry, relocated him before he opted out to take an administrative position at L.B. Landry).
Over the past years, Bonnabel has had to find athletes in a corner of as parish that has five small private schools, not to mention Rummel and John Curtis, which usually get their share of playground talent. And north Kenner is also fertile ground for traditional schools like Brother Martin, Jesuit and Holy Cross, where many parents can afford to pay the tuition for a Catholic school education. Then throw in Haynes Charter's educational reputation and you can see the plight of Bonnabel.
Yet, the Bruins talent will play hard for new coach Reggie Rogers and should make this game interesting indeed to watch.
McDonogh 35 vs. St. Augustine – These two love the competition against each other on the field and in the treble and bass clefs where they football teams and bands will try to blow each other out when they collide at Tad Gormley Stadium Saturday night at 7.
This rivalry dates back to the formative days of St. Aug in the early 1950 when the two schools were members of the Louisiana Interscholastic Athletic and Literary Organization. St. Aug grew to become a parochial powerhouse and McDonogh 35, the city's oldest public school for African Americans (dating back to 1917), has been an elite school among its Orleans Parish peers.
The Roneagles are ranked No. 9 and the Purple Knights No. 10 on the preseason LSWA Top 10 list, and the difference between the two could be just that close. Eddie Robinson Award winning coach Wayne Reese's '35 squad may have a slight advantage in offensive ability now that St. Aug's sensational sophomore running back Leonard Fournette is sidelined for 4-5 weeks with a separated shoulder that occurred early in the jamboree loss to Karr last Saturday. Fournette was touted as potentially the schools' greatest running back since Leroy Heard (Michigan and the Cleveland Browns). Now he's gone and coach Dave Johnson must adjust the offensive plan with backfield personnel that are rather inexperienced.
Still, this will be a game of emotions as well as a social event for both student bodies and their friends.
John Curtis vs. Franklinton – A classic season-opener matching the 2010 Class 4A champion Demons against the Class 2A runner-up, John Curtis, at Muss Bertolino on Friday at 7 p.m. Both are ranked No. 2 in their respective classes. Franklinton was 12 voting points behind Karr on the 4A poll and Curtis seven behind Evangel on the 2A listing.
This will be good one between two teams with different philosophies. Since J.T. Curtis took over the football program his father started, he has found great success in using and build-'em- from-elementary school along with running an offense that, if properly executed, will have the game clock as an ally. It's been successful to the tune of 23 state championships and a personal achievement of 492 wins in 42 years for the coach.
And while his team will once again be in a district (9-2A) of teams that cannot compete against his Patriots, such as Carver, Clark and Cohen, and two that may compete for three quarters of a game (Riverside and Newman), Curtis has provided his squad with an otherwise competitive schedule to prepare it for a possible revenge game against Evangel, which denied the Pats a state title in 2010.
And one of those opponents is Franklinton, which did win a state title last year. But this isn't a typical team under 13-year veteran coach Shane Smith. He said goodbye through graduation to 22 well-trained athletes. This year's team is younger, but just as willing to do the things it takes to be successful. This may not be the Year of the Demons, but they will give Curtis the competition it wants to set the stage for another successful season.
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