St. Mary’s faces toughest test at Abbeville; Lakeview debuts new turf at home

St. Mary’s tight end Drake Griffin catches a pass for a first down before being tackled by Lakeview linebacker Jordan Beard.

ABBEVILLE — Sometimes the toughest challenge may be the first one.

That’s a scenario that could be facing St. Mary’s as the Tigers open the season Friday at Class 3A Abbeville, which ranks No. 9 in its class in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association preseason football poll. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

The Class 1A Tigers are no strangers to respect in the poll themselves as they are receiving votes in their division, but the road test to start the regular season may prove one of the most difficult of the season.

Abbeville posted an 11-2 record last season, reaching the third round of the playoffs. They dumped Crowley, 34-0, during jamboree action this past week.

“It’s a fun game,” Tiger head coach Aaron York said about the annual battle with Abbeville. “They are big and fast. We are playing a team that made a deep run in the 3A playoffs last year.”

But York has constantly reminded his team that there is a reason high school football games are played, no matter how formidable the task at hand appears.

“If it were a given (the final outcome of this week’s game), then there would be no reason for us to load up the bus and go play the game,” York emphasized. “We, as coaches, have told the kids that we have a chance to win this game, and we have a chance to win each game this season.

“That’s why we put in the hard work we have done. This game is a measuring stick for us for the rest of the year. Why not go play a game like this to find out where we are at this point in the season?”

St. Mary’s, 8-3 overall this past season and a first-round playoff appearance, fell short during their 2021 meeting with Abbeville, 43-23.

However, after last week’s effort in a jamboree battle with Lakeview, York is pleased with the Tigers effort and focus going into this week’s season opener.

“I have told the players all along, our biggest enemy this season is ourselves,” York said. “We have to concentrate on what we do and do our best in accomplishing our game plan each week. We have a few things to clean up, and we are working hard on those this week.”

Lakeview excited about new turf, familiar foe

NATCHITOCHES — A pregame ceremony to dedicate the new turf installed in the swamp will be part of the kickoff celebration for Lakeview this Friday as it hosts D’Arbonne Woods Charter in the season opener.

Lakeview head coach Brandon Helms, in his 29th year overall in coaching, said he and the Gator community are most appreciative for the new stadium turf and the upgrades to other facilities as well.

“We just have so many people to thank for our facilities,” Helms said.

Among those Helms referenced for appreciation were school board member Eugene Garner and the Reverend Steve Harris along with other stakeholders who helped make the dream of upgraded facilities come to fruition.

“This is a top-class facility,” Helms continued. “I went to them with a dream, and they stepped up, took it and ran with it.

“Within nine months, we were beginning construction. We are just so excited to showcase our facility. The kids and our community deserve this recognition because they have poured so much of themselves into this program. This is when a dream becomes reality.”

Turning to the battle on the field, Helms said his squad is familiar with D’Arbonne Woods.

“This will be four years (consecutively) that we have played them,” Helms said of the Timberwolves. “They are very physical and well coached. They line up and say, ‘Here we are,’ and then they come right at you. D’Arbonne Woods is very sound and disciplined in what they do. This will be a good test for us early in the season.”

Lakeview has won two of the previous three matchups with D’Arbonne Woods, but the Timberwolves captured the win this past season with a 33-22 victory.

Helms said his team has focused on effort and execution after a lackluster performance against St. Mary’s in a 24-6 jamboree decision.

“I was a little disappointed in the jamboree,” Helms said. “We are working on getting those things corrected this week.”

The Timberwolves, based in Farmerville, posted a 6-4 record during the 2021 campaign and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, losing to Franklin 54-7.

Lakeview went 1-9, including the loss to D’Arbonne Woods in Week 7.

“Simply, we have several players that need to show up, step forward, and contribute like we know they can,” Helms said. “Our players have worked very hard so far, and we just have to correct some mistakes. It is going to be a very good week of practice.”

Photo: Elizabeth Yopp/St. Mary’s