Recent history suggests that Warren Easton should not be a surprise being in the Class 4A semifinals Friday night. Recent history also suggests that it is a surprise.
The Eagles had to replace 13 starters from a senior laden semifinal team in 2015. Additionally, Easton had to replace highly successful head coach Tony Hull.
First-year head coach Jerry Phillips stepped in and an outstanding job.
The 13th-seeded Eagles overcame the challenge and are back in the semifinals and facing the same opponent that has ended its season the last two years in two-time defending state champion and top-seed Neville Friday night at Bill Ruple Stadium in Monroe.
Last year, top-seeded Neville prevailed 44-36 before the Tigers downed Karr 45-26 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the championship.
In 2014, Neville edged Warren Easton 28-27 for the state championship. In 2013, East Jefferson eliminated Easton in the quarterfinals and downed Neville in the semifinals en route to upsetting Karr in the championship game.
The Eagles downed Franklinton (47-27) before winning a pair of road games over higher seeds over Tioga (26-23) and Minden (34-20).
The Tigers have not been tested in the playoffs, downed Woodlawn of Baton Rouge (44-7), blanking Assumption (16-0) and winning at Carencro (42-15) a week ago.
The Eagles are led by senior quarterback Jaiden Cole, who has completed 82-of-128 passes for 1,472 yards and 19 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Cole is a brilliant runner as well, with 1,284 yards and 20 touchdowns on 137 carries.
Junior Demaine Riley has carried 85 times for 458 yards and eight touchdowns while senior Josh Diarse has 61 rushed for 394 yards and three touchdowns and has 13 catches for 218 yards and two scores. Senior Bobby Newton is the top receiver with 32 receptions for 693 yards and seven touchdowns while senior KJ Johnson has 16 catches for 233 yards and four scores.
Defensively, senior Herschel Carter is the leading tackler with 59 stops and has four interceptions while senior Robert Williams has 51 tackles, including 15 for loss. Junior lineman Anthony Freeman has 50 tackles, including a team best 10 sacks while senior Phidarian Mathis has seven sacks. Senior Kenderick Marbles has seven interceptions.
The Eagles have won their last four games after losing to unbeaten Karr 61-13 on Oct. 28. Their other losses were to McDonogh 35, Jesuit and Tyler, Texas.
Sheldon “Sticks” Jones, Yo’Heinz Tyler and Nick Bartholomew are outstanding wide receivers while sophomore quarterback Joseph Edwards has done an excellent job. Junior Larry Barabino is the top rusher. Jones has 45 receptions for 718 yards and a touchdown. Tyler has 27 catches for 627 yards and 10 touchdowns while Bartholomew has 25 receptions for 410 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarterback Lance Legendre has completed 22-of-50 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions and he has rushed 53 times for 283 yards and five touchdowns. Barabino has carried 111 times for 745 yards and six touchdowns. Shaddie Clayton has 53 rushed for 471 yards and four touchdowns.
Easton averages 32.4 points per game while allowing 21 points per contest. The Eagies have scored 40 or more points six times and fifty or more points three times. Damien Tate, Jr. had a big interception against Minden.
The Tigers have won 38 straight games. Their last loss was on Sept. 13, 2014 to Longview, Texas, in the Battle on The Border at Independence Stadium in Shreveport. The last loss in-state for Neville was to East Jefferson in 2013.
The Tigers average 40.8 points per game while allowing just 11.3 per contest. Neville has scored 40 or more in eight of its last nine games. The closest anyone has come to the Tigers this year is a 26-14 win over Ouachita Parish.
Most impressive for Neville was a 35-16 win over Division I power Evangel in the Battle on The Border on Sept. 9.
The winner advances to face the winner of the semifinal matchup pitting No. 3 seed McDonogh 35 against second-seeded Karr in the championship game on Dec. 10 at 3:30 p.m. at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.