Chiefs open Curtis era impressively but with room for improvement

NCHS quarterback Owen Smith scrambled well in Friday’s victory. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal)

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

As Natchitoches Central High School’s football team made its home debut last Friday night under new coach Jess Curtis, it didn’t matter that it was a jamboree.

It didn’t matter that the Class 5A Chiefs were hosting Class 2A Loyola – who last year beat the Chiefs in the Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Jamboree.

With the Flyers having to rebuild after heavy graduation losses, the contest looked like a mismatch, and it was, despite the modest 14-0 NCHS margin in two 15-minute halves at a well-populated Turpin Stadium.

The Chiefs consistently mounted long drives deep into Flyers’ territory. But they didn’t finish many of those marches, just one in each half.

The extent of domination showed up in the statistics kept by venerable Chiefs stat man Warren Massia. NCHS rolled up 273 offensive yards, and gave up only four (4). Yes, that’s right. Four.

That left Curtis very pleased Sunday after review of the game tape.

“Number 1, I liked our energy, how we came out. We wanted to fix our tackling and we did that. We played a clean game defensively – they had four yards of total offense. Two 15-minute periods, to hold somebody to that, especially when a team’s learning the scheme and how we do things, I was very impressed,” he said.

“We felt we left the shutout on the table last week, and so the kids came out wanting it and they got it. I was very impressed. We ran to the football, tackled, and coverage was very good.”

When the Chiefs had the ball, they had a new Chief handling it. Sophomore Owen Smith was certified by the LHSAA as eligible, as expected, Thursday after transferring from Calvary Baptist in Shreveport. He got his first varsity start Friday night – although previously ineligible to play in games, he was able to practice.

Practice made for near perfect. Smith completed 14 of 18 passes for 150 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown to newly arrived Chief baseball player Dillon Braxton. Smith led the Chiefs with 73 rushing yards on eight scampers, nearly all scrambles from the pocket, and he scored on a 2-yard run.

“That was his first varsity start and he looked sharp. He hit his first eight passes, had a very accurate night, scrambled and ran at the right times, and added a dimension to our offense,” said Curtis.

Braxton and veteran standout Camryn Davis each caught seven throws. Davis collected 82 yards while Braxton had 68 as NCHS rolled up 17 first downs, and surrendered only two.

The Chiefs’ scoring drives each took 11 plays. The first half tally took 79 yards; the second one, 54.

But other than Smith’s scrambles, NCHS ballcarriers totaled just 50 yards on 21 attempts. The offensive line did not dominate the smaller Flyers.

“Our passing game’s good. We’ve got to be better running the football. That’s our point of emphasis this week,” said Curtis, who said his team is progressing well overall.

“I told the kids, ‘you’re this close from being that team that everybody talks about.’ That’s what we want to be. We feel good about our practice games – we have two wins. Now it’s time to start the regular season.”

The Chiefs get going Friday night at 7 in Shreveport, meeting Woodlawn at the new Booker T. Washington Stadium. The game was originally to be played at Independence Stadium but was shifted due to scheduling conflicts arising from the unexpected closure of Lee Hedges Stadium.