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Luck of the draw gives Lutcher Bulldogs tough opener at Salmen

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  • George Becnel
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  • November 08, 2017 - 3:46pm

File photosDwain Jenkins' Lutcher Bulldogs open the Class 4A playoffs at Salmen after having won back-to-back state titles in Class 3A the previous two years.

There’s one thing Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins has learned about the high school football playoffs.

“When you get to the playoffs, it’s all about matchups and the luck of the draw in some ways,” the Bulldogs coach.

In that regard, Lutcher drew a tough matchup to open the Class 4A playoffs when the Bulldogs, the No. 24 seed, travel to Slidell to take on No. 9 Salmen on Friday night.

The 4-6 Bulldogs take on an 8-2 Salmen team. The Spartans go into the playoffs coming off a 31-14 loss to Lakeshore that snapped a seven-game winning streak. By comparison, the Bulldogs had a modest three-game winning streak before losing to Plaquemine last week.

“One of our deals that we’ve been faced with with the move up (from Class 3A to Class 4A) is the physicality of the matchups. There were some teams out there we knew would be tough matchups for us. Salmen is a very, very good football team and it will be a tough matchup just because they are playing really confident now,” said Jenkins.

The Bulldogs won back-to-back Class 3A state titles in 2015 and 2016 but never have won a championship during a previous short stint in Class 4A.

“You start looking at teams that are in the playoffs and kind of looking what they did last year and their experience, what you knew that 4A was top-heavy,” Jenkins said. “You knew you had your big-hitters with Karr, Neville, Warren Easton, and even McDonogh 35. Those four teams have been your constant teams in 4A and have made deep runs.

“You look at everybody else as teams that are cyclical on the public school side. Salmen was a 27 seed last year and now they are Top 10 team. Lakeshore was a team that was in the 20s as well and now they are the No. 2 team. What you see is teams that build in phases in the rest of 4A. Salmen has put together a big senior class this year and they have themselves in a position where they feel they can compete and have a really good football team.”

The Spartans feature a spread offense but went into the season determined to improve their running game, according to Jenkins.

“One of the things they knew they needed to do a better job of this year was running the ball. Last year they struggled to do that and it looks like they’ve found their running game with Aaron Williams,” Jenkins said of the Salmen runner who has rushed for more than 750 yards this season.

Emerging over the last few weeks has been sophomore running back Mikell Marco.

“He’s gotten more and more carries and he’s a different type of back. Williams is smaller and a shifty, fast guy and Marco is a big kid. He’s a different-style runner,” said Jenkins.

Salmen’s quarterback is L.J. Leonard, the son of head coach Jerry Leonard.

One of Leonard’s targets is 5-foot-7, 140-pound Brayden Gabel.

“He’s a small guy but has made big plays for them all year long,” Jenkins said.

A deep threat for the Spartans is 6-foot-1, 185-pound Eddie Smith.

“He’s a long, fast, physical kid who can line up on the perimeter and really stretch a defense,” said Jenkins.

Smith is a TCU commitment who likely will play defensive back on the next level.

Anchoring the offensive line is guard Malik Parker.

“He’s a 300-pounder who can really pound on you,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he had a chance to see Salmen in person during a scrimmage against Destrehan prior to the start of the season and that he has noticed a marked improvement in the Spartans on defense.

“One of the players I think has emerged and helped that resurgence of the defense is Reshawn Gallaspy. He’s 6-4, 280-pound defensive tackle that is very, very athletic and can get after the quarterback. He makes a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage,” the Lutcher coach said.

Another top defensive lineman is Garrett Crawford, who has draw college offers from Ivy League schools as well as West Point.

“He’s a really good, physical defensive player,” said Jenkins.

The real defensive standout, Jenkins said, is 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker Jeremy Hudson.

“Normally when you see a guy that size at linebacker, you wouldn’t think he can run but he’s making tackles sideline-to-sideline and in the passing game. He’s really a dominant force,” said Jenkins.

Smith plays cornerback for Salmen on defense.

“He has long arms and good speed. In the films we have, you don’t even see a whole lot of balls going his way. If there are, it’s short, underneath stuff.  He tackles really well in place,” Jenkins said.

While Leonard is the team’s quarterback, he may be just as big a threat as Salmen’s punter, according to Jenkins.

“In the game he missed (a 28-14 Week 2 loss to Northshore), they probably missed him more punting the ball as they did him throwing the ball because they weren’t able to flip the field and Northshore was able to cash in on a short field,” Jenkins said.

One area of concern for the Spartans has been turnovers. When Lutcher got off to a 1-5 start, it seemed the Bulldogs weren’t able to buy a turnover. The ball started to bounce the Bulldogs’ way a bit more during an improved second half.

The Bulldogs could use that sort of help from Salmen on Friday, Jenkins said.

‘The only issue for them is they have turned the ball over. I’m sure that’s one of the things they will focus on,” the Lutcher coach said. “That’s really been their Achilles heel that’s stopped them from having some big point-production nights.

“When you get to the playoffs and you want to pull off one of those first-round upsets, one of the things you have to benefit from is to get some turnovers. Hopefully, we can create some of those.”

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.