Chiefs aim for signature win in Turpin tonight against Gators

Catches like this one by A.J. Scott at Benton last week would fuel the chances for Natchitoches Central to upset Captain Shreve tonight. (Journal photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN)

By DWAIN SPILLMAN Jr., Natchitoches Parish Journal

This prep gridiron battle could be epic. Natchitoches Central hopes so.

There is much on the line for both teams tonight at 7 in Turpin Stadium. Captain Shreve travels to meet NCHS and the final outcome can have huge implications for both programs.

For Captain Shreve, a win advances the Gators on their climb among Louisiana’s best Class 5A teams. Shreve is led by second-year head coach Adam Kirby, who previously served as the Gators offensive coordinator before being elevated to the head of the table just prior to the start of the 2022 season.

For Natchitoches Central, it would mean a signature District 1-5A win under first-year head coach Jess Curtis, who strongly believes his Chiefs are turning the corner to being a perennial threat to any opponent.

“It’s just time to take another step,” Curtis said. “We are making progress and their (the players) commitment has been outstanding. Our kids have realized that we can play with anybody. This team is capable of winning, and winning on a consistent basis. They are believing.”

The Chiefs (2-4, 1-2) dropped a 42-35 decision in a barnburner at Benton last week, coming from 21 down to take a fourth-quarter lead. The Chiefs have fallen behind in the first half against many opponents through six weeks of play. However, the second half has been dominated by NCHS as the Chiefs have come so close to posting additional victories.

Curtis said that the key for success against the Gators as well as future opponents is getting off to a better start from the opening whistle.

“The one thing we have to do is start quickly,” he continued. “We have talked about it. We have gotten behind early but have outplayed Opelousas, Airline, Benton and others in the second half. That shows what we are capable of but we have to start out fast.”

The NCHS offense is spearheaded by one of Louisiana’s best pass catchers, senior Cam Davis, whose 745 receiving yards ranks second statewide. Sophomore quarterback Owen Smith is eighth in the state in all classes with 1,361 passing yards and has tossed 13 TD passes – 10 to Davis, who is the state’s leader in that stat.

The Gators are 5-1 and a perfect 3-0 in 1-5A. Shreve spoiled Airline’s homecoming a week ago, thumping the previously top 10 ranked and undefeated Vikings in a convincing fashion 60-35. The only blemish on the Gators’ record this season came in the second week against Class 2A powerhouse Calvary Baptist Academy. Shreve is currently ranked second in both the LHSAA and GeauxPreps power ratings in the Division 1 Select category.

Shreve has a balanced attack but features one of the state’s breakout stars, junior running back Jamarlon “Bobo” Otis. He ranks sixth statewide with 1,110 yards rushing and leads northwest Louisiana with 13 TDs.

“We need to be at our best against a very well-coached and very physical team,” Kirby said as his Gators ready for NCHS. “Their defense, because of the pressure they create and the looks they give you, can cause a lot of problems. Just watching the film, you can see that this is a very physical team. That’s the culture that Jess has instilled in his players. They are believing just like our kids are.”

Kirby had as much praise for his team’s progress as he offered for the Chiefs and coach Curtis. “I love our team,” Kirby said. “I love our mentality. Our players are focused and they are determined. Our kids are very positive and they don’t get down if we fall behind early. They believe in each other. It makes a huge difference, regardless of the records of the teams you play.”

Curtis isn’t putting all his eggs in one basket. An upset tonight would be huge, but it would count as only one win.

“There is still a lot of football left to be played. There is no one game on the schedule that is going to win it all for you. We are excited to play Captain Shreve and see how we measure up against a really good football team,” he said. “We will definitely get to see where we are as a program this week and we are excited about that because the kids are believing.”