Scrimmage report: NCHS wins its debut under Curtis, St. Mary’s sparkles

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

(Look for Lakeview Gators’ coverage in Tuesday’s edition)

The official debut for new Natchitoches Central High School football coach Jess Curtis and the 2023 Chiefs isn’t until a couple of weekends, when the Chiefs hit the road to play Woodlawn in Shreveport. But the first test drive came Friday night at Pineville, and despite some bumps in the road, it was a winner.

NCHS opened a 12-0 lead in two 10-minute periods, then weathered a Pineville rally to tie and got the decisive points on a short Mateo Rastrepo field goal for a 15-12 victory in the points column.

In scrimmages, the quality of performance is almost as important as the score — maybe more so.

For a program aiming for greatness, not just success, under a dynamic, accomplished new head coach with an impressive coaching staff, winning is the ultimate goal each weekend. So Curtis was pleased while finding plenty to improve upon.

“I’m picky. It’s our job as coaches to continue to push our kids to be better. There’s a lot of promise. There’s a lot of desire. I’m never going to be mad about a win, but we left a lot of points out on the field. Three drives stalled inside the 10-yard-line and that can’t happen,” he said.

“For the most part, it was a step in the right direction, and I’m expecting a bigger step forward this week in the jamboree here Friday night (against Loyola).”

Zion Thompson got the Chiefs on the scoreboard early on a short run. Receiver Camrin Davis made a nice zig-zag run with a short pass and tallied from about 20 yards out for the two-TD lead in the first period.

But the Rebels rallied after halftime, late, to tie the scrimmage briefly.

“We saw tackling needs to improve. The two scores Pineville got came off busted tackles, things we need to improve,” said Curtis. “But defensively, overall we felt pretty good. We held them to negative yardage and shut them out until late in the game.

“That’s part of growing, to know how to finish out, and to play to a certain standard throughout the game. There’s a lot of potential. Some of it was so good. They played so hard Friday. We have a lot of great kids,” he said. “They’ve just got to learn how to win. They want it.”

Braden Woods, Landon Brosset and Fred Jackson have been among the Chiefs’ defensive leaders. Big (400-plus pounds big) nose tackle Jerrelle Palmer had a strip and fumble recovery, and nearly scored at Pineville.

The Chiefs suffered a key loss on defense when Jackson, the senior middle linebacker, fractured his tibia (lower leg injury). He is out indefinitely.

St. Mary’s blanks Grant, Winnfield

Although top seniors Drake Griffin and Ben Bienvenu sat out Friday’s 49th annual St. Mary’s Steak Supper scrimmage recovering from relatively minor injuries, their teammates made a major statement.

St. Mary’s shut out two higher classification schools, walloping Winnfield 21-0 after beating Grant 7-0 in scrimmage action on the school’s field in east Natchitoches.

“My biggest thing was to see how we competed at game speed against somebody else, and we did very well. Our kids competed their butts off,” said veteran Tigers’ coach Aaron York.

“Offensively, (quarterback) Mixon (Bankston) had a great night. He was in command and ran the offense well. There were a few miscues in the first game where we didn’t connect, but against Winnfield he settled in and our receivers (Payne Williams, Ethan Busby and Nathan Slaughter) are a pretty tough bunch to defend – even without Ben and Drake out there, and that showed up in a big way.”

“Defensively our kids were physical and didn’t give up a touchdown. Mason Mathis and Chance Rushing up front, and Peyton Mitchell at linebacker, stood out defensively. They flew around the ball. Winnfield gets off the bus and passes the eye test, but our kids didn’t back down a bit.”

The Tigers scored three times in 12 plays while keeping WSHS off the board.

“This was a good start, but it’s not our end goal,” said York. “We’ve got to grow from it, build depth, and this week against Lakeview we’ll see a different offense, a different defense, a different approach, and hopefully take another step forward.”

St. Mary’s and Lakeview tee it up at 6 in Turpin Stadium Friday night before NCHS and Loyola follow at 8.

Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal