Homecoming Friday for Tigers, while Gators go to Winnfield

Ethan Busby (11) is one of an impressive collection of playmakers in the St. Mary’s lineup as the Tigers begin district play at home Friday night. (Journal photo by BRET H. MCCORMICK)

By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Natchitoches Parish Journal

Remaining focused.

With the accolades, earned and deserved, in addition to the festivities of homecoming week, St. Mary’s head coach Aaron York has required his team to do just that. Remain focused.

Standing at 4-0 after enjoying an off week to heal wounds during the 5th session of the regular season due to a contest cancellation against Isadore Newman (New Orleans), the Tigers have moved to No. 2 in the power ratings in Louisiana’s Division IV Select category. SMS has also maintained respect in the LSWA rankings at No. 9 overall in Class A.

The Tigers open district play this Friday night at 7 in Turpin Stadium against long-time bitter rival LaSalle as action in the conference kicks off, all to bring an end to homecoming week.

“We have to stay focused,” York said. “I have had to put my foot down this week. None of this other stuff (homecoming activities daily) matters if we don’t take care of business Friday night.”

The business Friday night is solely about post-season. The first half of the season is over. The most vital schedule is now ahead. The second half (district play) of the campaign determines post-season contenders and those that turn their focus to other sports.

“We have run the gauntlet for four weeks and we want to make sure we go out and start district play on the right foot,” York added. “The target on our backs becomes bigger in district now because we won’t be sneaking up on anybody. We are going to get everyone’s best shot in district and it’s all about our preparation and planning.”

That gauntlet has included victories over much larger schools which has assisted York’s squad in accruing the current respect and positioning from analysts. That gauntlet included the Tigers first-ever win over Class 3A powerhouse and perennial playoff threat Abbeville to begin the season.

LaSalle is 3-2 and averages 31.4 points per game offensively. The visiting Tigers jumped out of the gates in 2023 with three straight wins but most recently suffered setbacks at the hands of Lakeview and Delhi Charter.

“Just looking at them (LaSalle) on film, those are tough nosed kids that really like and want to play football,” York said. “They are a scary team and the type that could slip up on you if you are not prepared.”

The Lakeview Gators will paddle east on Highway 84 to begin action in District 3-2A as they visit Winnfield in a 7 p.m. contest at Stokes-Walker Stadium.

Coach Andy Boone’s crew is 3-2 coming off a heartbreaking loss at home against Delta Charter in which opportunities to record the victory continually fell from their grip. This week, it’s about returning to the basics.

“We have to just start over,” Boone said. “We have to get over this one quick and pay attention to the small details. Cut the penalties at least in half and hold onto the ball. We just have to make the basic plays and be more disciplined.”

The Gators will load up and sport two of the state’s leading rushers against Winnfield. Junior Omarion Pier totals 957 yards via the rush in five games while senior Kaleb Collins adds 916 yards behind a much-improved offensive line.

Turning the clock back, the Gators have not defeated Winnfield since the 2018 season when Lakeview gained the upper hand 26-20 in double overtime. Winnfield is 1-4 after losing to Bunkie at home last week 33-0. However, Boone says throw out the records in this one.

“It’s a winnable game against a very solid team,” Boone concluded. “Winnfield is big, strong and fast. We just have to focus on what we do and do it better than we have to this point.”