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Defending champion Bulldogs face equally motivated West Feliciana

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  • George Becnel
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  • November 30, 2016 - 7:08pm

File photosJontre Kirklin is now wins away from being the first quarterback to lead Lutcher to back-to-back state titles. LHS faces a semifinal rematch at West Feliciana.

The task at hand for the Lutcher Bulldogs has been known for a long time.

Ever since Lutcher won the Class 3A state title a year ago over rival St. James, the 2016 Bulldogs have been on a quest to become the first team in school history to repeat as state championship.

A bit more quietly, perhaps, the West Feliciana Saints also have been on a mission.

“Since they fumbled on fourth down on this field last December, this has been their mission – to get back to this point and make sure they did everything they could to have a home game this week. They lost in the semifinals the last two years at Livonia and at Lutcher and they thought if they wanted to get over the hump and play the second week in December in the Superdome, they needed to be home and they have done everything in their power to make sure they were home this week,” Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins said.

Jenkins was referring to the Saints’ 46-38 overtime loss to Lutcher in last year’s semifinals. Lutcher scored first in overtime and went a two-point conversion. West Feliciana faced fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line when the Saints fumbled, ending their hopes of reaching the state championship game.

A year later, the Saints rolled though their 2016 schedule undefeated and secured the No. 1 seed. That accomplishment allows West Feliciana to host Lutcher in Friday night’s semifinal.

The 12-0 Saints have been particularly dominant in the playoffs with wins of 60-12 over Donaldsonville, 42-14 over Erath and 50-14 over Northwest.

Jenkins wasn’t around for last year’s semifinal. He was busy guiding St. James to the state title appearance but many of the same players for Lutcher and West Feliciana return for the rematch.

Among them is West Feliciana’s Ronald Sims.

“They have a big fullback that everybody around here is going to remember, Ronald Sims, for his 200-plus yard effort he had here last year in the semifinals,” Jenkins said of the 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior.

Although still formidable, the Saints haven’t had to rely on Sims so much this season.

“As impressive as he was last year in that semifinal game, this year it’s been the little guys,” said Jenkins. “He still has 700, 800 yards rushing but Davon Harris and Derius Davis, the two wings, and Derek Turner, the quarterback, have made explosive plays all year long.

“I don’t think you can turn on a film and not see one of those guys take it 60-plus yards. They have been basically unstoppable.”

The Saints feature a double-win offense, running the triple option and counters.

Although Lutcher faced a team featuring a tight formation in Avoyelles to open the playoffs, no experience can truly get a team ready for West Feliciana’s attack, according to Jenkins.

“I don’t know how playing anybody could help outside of playing Parkview to get you prepare for this, and I don’t know how much even Parkview can prepare you for this,” said Jenkins. “As good as Parkview is – they are physical and methodical with their attack and they get guys open – it’s not the same caliber athletes West Feliciana has running around doing these things.

“They basically have a state champion track team at their skilled positions. That’s one of the things since they lost here in December, you follow West Feliciana and they have won a baseball state championship with a lot of these same kids and won a state track championship with a lot of these same kids. They have been driven since losing two (football) semifinal games.”

The Saints don’t throw the ball much, Jenkins said, but when they do, it usually leads to big plays.

“The thing about their passing game is their passing game all ends up being all big plays because guys are wide open because you are so committed to having to stop the run and they will go play-action and they will have guys running wide open through the secondary,” said Jenkins.

The Saints have been strong defensively all season with numerous offensive skilled position players working on the other side of the ball, particularly in the secondary.

“They are 4-2-5. They haven’t shown a whole lot of variance there,” said Jenkins. “They will play man coverage behind it. Last year they did play us a little more cover-three. You have seen a little bit of cover-three in films but for the most part, they trust those skilled guys who are extremely athletic, can match up with your receivers and defend.

“You don’t see anybody run the ball against them. That’s one of the things you have to be concerned with. You need to be able to run the ball because you need some semblance of balance and not allow them to just pin their ears back and get after the passer. They will start to send some of these guys who can really run off the edge and it’s hard to get blocks on them and they create big plays.”

The top guy for the Saints who is primarily a defensive player is linebacker Hunter Smith, according to Jenkins.

“His play is very, very sound. He’s a good athlete. He runs and makes a lot of tackles,” Jenkins said.

A pair of defenders up front who also play on offense are tackles Brent Williams and Zakk McKeehan. Williams is 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds while McKeehan is 6-foot-4 and 290.

“Those guys have been almost immovable objects in the middle,” said Jenkins.

Along with being a rugged runner, Sims is a top defender at linebacker.

“The big fullback, Ronald Sims, will come over at 6-3, 240 will play defensive end,” said Jenkins. “It becomes pretty formidable when you have those guys up front then you put those skilled guys on offense on the back end in the secondary and now you have the potential for big plays.

“In the three playoff films we’ve seen, they’ve forced 10 turnovers. With the issues we’ve had with turnovers, we have to fix it or we will find ourselves in the same position that Donaldsonville, Erath and Northwest were in. You can’t afford to give them extra opportunities.”

If the defending champs are to make it to a second-straight title game, it will take a full effort, according to Jenkins.

“We will have to play our most complete game of the year against a team that is well-deserving of the No. 1 ranking and had been dominant all year long,” the Lutcher coach said.B

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.