By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
As St. Mary’s warmed up for the weather-delayed Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Jamboree at Turpin Stadium Friday night, fans who braved threatening stormclouds and arrived on time had almost an hour to observe warmups. They saw 44 Tigers, and at the other end of the field, only 20 Lakeview Gators.
That summed up the disparity between the local small-school high school football teams. Aaron York’s Class A St. Mary’s squad reached the state quarterfinals last year and returns many of the key figures this season. Class 2A Lakeview won a combined seven games in the last three seasons and has a new, dynamic coach in Andy Boone.
That gap played out in the Tigers’ 42-20 victory in two 15-minute halves. After a very sloppy start by both sides, St. Mary’s took command, but Lakeview did not wilt and got three touchdowns – all by junior running back Amarion Pierre, who scored on runs of 5, 55 and 49 yards.
Lakeview lost fumbles on its first three series, but trailing 14-0, moved 80 yards in nine plays to score just before halftime. But the Gators – unable to convert any of their four onside kicks – gave the Tigers prime field position and it was immediately cashed in when Mixon Bankston connected with Ben Bienvenu for a 34-yard TD upping the spread to 21-6 after Payne Williams converted the third of his six extra points.
Afterward, there was never a doubt about the outcome afterward, if ever there was.
“There were big positives, but we’ve got to fix the negatives,” said Boone. “I knew the positives would be there. When we hold onto the ball, I don’t think we can be stopped consistently. But we’ve got to get the snap and not put it on the ground.
“This was a good step for us, playing in front of a big crowd, learning how to handle the nerves,” he said.
Pierre looked ready to make any defense nervous.
“He’s got good vision. When he gets the ball and goes, he’s good. He can see the cutbacks, has good speed,” said Boone. “But we’re playing him on defense, in the kicking game, and that’s a lot of work for the young man in the heat we’re had.”
York liked how his team overcame its own bad start, including a dropped TD pass and a couple of crippling penalties.
“It resembled a game. Offensively, we stumbled early, but I was proud that we settled in and didn’t get stopped afterward. If we can establish a run game, and we should be able to do that with Number 4 (Drake Griffin) back there, and get our skill guys out in open space — they’re pretty good – we can be dangerous.”
The Tigers were able to use plenty of younger players once they took command, something York says is vital to the long-range potential for the 2023 squad.
“As we go through the season, we can’t play with (just) 14-15 kids,” he said. “We are harping on building depth. If we can establish a true depth chart on both sides, we’ll be pretty danged good,” said York.
Bienvenu was the Tigers’ team captain after completing his remarkable comeback from a near-fatal car crash last November.
The Tigers take a big step up in competition this Friday night in Turpin Stadium, taking on Class 3A Abbeville at 7 p.m.
Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal