NCHS falls to Opelousas in disappointing fashion

NCHS receiver Dillon Braxton makes a catch and runs past an Opelousas defender Friday in a 40-28 loss at Turpin Stadium. (Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal)

By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR, Natchitoches Parish Journal

NATCHITOCHES — The aftertaste wasn’t bitter sweet. It was just plain bitter.

The homestanding Natchitoches Central Chiefs kept fans on the edge of their seats until the final horn hoping for a win Friday in Turpin Stadium.

The rebuilding team showed ability to rally from double-digit deficits in each half.

However, disappointment reverberated deeply with NCHS coach Jess Curtis following his team’s 40-28 loss to Opelousas.

“It’s just really disappointing because I felt like we had a really good plan,” Curtis said after his first home game at NCHS. “This was a really big game for us to take another step forward. We are just very disappointed that we didn’t get the job done tonight.”

Though starting off rather sluggishly, the Chiefs (1-1) kept Opelousas (1-1) within sight for the duration.

Trailing 34-28 after scoring and getting a two-point conversion with 2:27 remaining in the contest, the NCHS special teams crew recovered a Mateo Restrepo onside kick and brought the maroon- and gold-clad fans to the feet with renewed excitement.

But the Chiefs turned the ball over on downs just four plays later as the offense stalled.

Opelousas ripped off a 44-yard run on the next play to drive the ball deep inside Chiefs territory as the clock ticked under a minute. The Tigers scored with 47 seconds remaining to seal the deal.

“We are going to call it like we see it,” Curtis continued. “We are not going to sugar coat it. We are not going to sit here and try to put sugar in a sweetness thing because this was bitter. We didn’t play the way we needed to in order to win a game against a team we should have beaten.”

Opelousas came out of the gates with an explosive rushing attack.

On the third play from scrimmage, junior running back D’Shaun Ford raced straight up the middle for a 52-yard gain before the Tigers hit paydirt just two plays later for an 8-0 lead.

After NCHS stalled on its first offensive possession, the Tigers increased the lead again, driving 67 yards on six plays and stretched the advantage to 14-0 in the first quarter.

That drive included runs of 31 and 22 yards by Opelousas rushers. On the night, OHS totaled 475 offensive yards with 396 of those tallies coming via the rush. The Tigers recorded 10 rushes of more than 15 yards and seven that were 20 yards or more.

“I can’t wait to watch the film because we had people there (on defense),” Curtis said. “We had more people in the box than is legally possible, and we were just sidestepping tackles.

“Until we change that, we are not going to beat good teams. My job is to get people there that are going to step up and make the tackle. I promise you we are going to do that. That’s a big part of this process in building.”

As the second quarter began, the Chiefs hit the scoreboard to close the gap to 14-7 as quarterback Owen Smith found Camryn Davis for a 29-yard strike.

The Chiefs cut that lead to 14-13 as the first half expired with Smith connecting with Dillon Braxton for an 8-yard touchdown.

The Chiefs tried valiantly to gain the advantage in the second half, but each time NCHS came close, the Tigers struck on big plays to push the win further out of reach.

NCHS was paced by its passing game as Smith threw for 267 yards on 18-of-28 passing with three touchdowns and one interception.

Davis topped the 100-yard receiving mark for the second straight week as totaled 149 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns. Running mate Braxton contributed 92 receiving yards on seven snags and one score.

Zion Thompson rushed for 51 yards on 19 touches.

Of note defensively, senior defensive end Braden Woods plagued the Opelousas offense on several drives as he bolted through the line on numerous occasions to keep the Chiefs hopes alive.

“There were some bright spots, but this is what we have to understand,” Curtis concluded. “It’s a journey. It’s a process, and we are building something here. We are going back to work immediately. We knew taking over this program wasn’t going to be easy. We are here correcting things that have been going on for years.

“The first step is to look in the mirror. It starts with me, making the calls both offensively and defensively. Then, the coaches, the personnel and also looking at the plays we didn’t make. There were plays to be made, and we just didn’t get it done. The game was right there for us at halftime. We had the numbers. Again, I am just disappointed, but we are going to get this right in our process.”

NCHS will travel south on Interstate 49 next week to right the ship as they face Alexandria Senior High next Friday.