Chiefs host tough Opelousas team in home debut tonight

By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Journal Sports

There is renewed excitement at the teepee over on Highway 1 South Bypass.

That’s the only description needed to explain the atmosphere circling around Natchitoches Central’s football program this season.

The Chiefs kicked off the 2023 prep pigskin campaign with a nail-biting victory over Woodlawn-Shreveport, 39-28, a week ago and look to remain perfect as they host Opelousas tonight at Turpin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Even with the excitement level at its highest point in more than a decade, the Chiefs must remain focused and continue to improve each and every week. Chief head coach Jess Curtis, who came to NCHS from an acclaimed and victorious career at Many, has installed a different strategic system in his first year at the helm and is pleased with his team’s progress. However, focusing on the overall mission remains the key.

“We definitely want to keep winning as we grow,” Curtis said earlier this week. “We have implemented two new schemes, both offensively and defensively, with these kids, and winning while we have done that certainly beats the alternative.

“We are experiencing some expected growing pains and it’s frustrating when we move the ball offensively and mistakes cost us points on the board. Defensively, we fly around the ball and our effort is excellent. But giving up big plays is a little frustrating. One thing I can tell you, our players are definitely motivated and working very hard to fix those issues on both sides of the ball.”

After knocking off Woodlawn of Shreveport in Week 1 of the regular season, the Chiefs look to continue their winning ways as Opelousas travels northward to meet NCHS on the turf. The visiting

Tigers will be a formidable opponent for the homestanding Chiefs.

Opelousas was the No. 3 seed in the Division II non-select division of the LHSAA playoffs a year ago and has advanced to the second round of post-season each of the last two seasons. OHS went undefeated in a tough Class 4A south Louisiana district en route to an overall record of 10-4 a year ago.

The Tigers dropped their 2023 season-opener in a hard-fought battle with Teurlings Catholic, 34-16. A year ago, Natchitoches Central yielded a 27-7 decision at Opelousas.

“We are really locked in on this one,” Curtis said. “This will be a big game for us. Opelousas is a tough team and they are consistently in the playoffs. Our schedule doesn’t get any easier from here on out.

“But (Curtis then paused briefly to gather his thoughts and a grin followed), we want it that way. To be the best, you have to beat the best. That is what we are here for. You only get valid results and see where your team really is by playing good teams. That is the best way to measure your progress and focus on where we need to work the most.

“To be successful, you have to put in the preparation and work hard. Our coaches and players seem to be on the same page with that. It’s really exciting around here.”

Against Woodlawn in the season opener, NCHS amassed 355 yards of total offense and moved the ball against a strong defense. Sophomore transfer quarterback Owen Smith led the new Chiefs’ offense with 262 yards through the air, accounting for two touchdowns, on a 14 of 20 aerial effort. Running back Zion Thompson led the maroon and gold rushing attack with 60 yards on the ground and two TD’s as well. Of special note, receiver Camryn Davis hauled in 10 receptions for 188 yards and two scores.

“We are pleased with our progress,” Curtis concluded. “But we recognize we are growing and still have many things to correct. But our team attitude is very good and our kids are receptive to coaching and want to improve. I could not be more pleased with that and excited where our efforts, by the players, coaches and fans, can take us in the future.”

Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal