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Lutcher Bulldogs one victory away from making school history

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  • George Becnel
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  • December 07, 2016 - 9:13am

File photosFirst-year Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins is one win away from leading his alma mater to a second-consecutive Class 3A state football championship.

Lutcher’s football team finally was able to take a huge, collective sigh following the Bulldogs’ 16-14 Class 3A semifinal win last Friday at West Feliciana.

“As great of a season as it’s been, it’s really the first win I’ve gotten to enjoy all year long,” Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins said. “It’s indicative of what we knew we were capable of and what our expectations were for this year that even in the wins early in the season you never were satisfied. It was always quickly moving on the next one.

“Being able to feel good about a win at the end of a game was something I think this whole football team was looking forward to all year long.”

With expectations so high that anything short of a championship game appearance would seem to be a disappointment, the Bulldogs have scratched a clawed their way back to the title game. Along the way the Bulldogs haven’t always played their best football, Jenkins admits

“We maybe have not been able to put things together but one of the signs of a champion is a team that finds a way to win no matter the circumstances. That’s one of the things this team has done. We’ve had nights where we haven’t played well on either side of the ball but found ways to win. We’ve had nights where we played great for a half and played poorly for a half, but at the end of the night, we found a way to win. That’s a great trait for a football team to have where kids just believe and kick and scratch and claw and find a way to come out on top,” said Jenkins.

When Lutcher takes on Amite in the Class 3A state championship game at noon Saturday in the Superdome, the game needs no additional storylines. Yet, in what has come to be standard procedure when a River Parish team is involved, there are always subplots galore.

The 2016 Bulldogs will attempt to be the first team in school history to win back-to-back state titles. All of Lutcher’s previous state champions were led by junior quarterbacks that were unable to capture the title the following year. Jontre Kirklin could be the first to do so Saturday.

Additionally, the Bulldogs face an Amite team with special incentive. A year ago, Amite was unable to play in the semifinals because player suspensions in the wake of a bench-clearing brawl in the Warriors’ 56-20 quarterfinal win. That sent then Jenkins-coached St. James to the championship game against Lutcher.

“Amite is one of the most talented teams,” Jenkins said. “I think if you would have polled coaches and media prior to the season, I’d bet a lot of people would have told you that Lutcher, West Feliciana and Amite, it wouldn’t have been a shock that any of those teams would have been in the Superdome.

“Amite is extremely talented and I’m sure they are not lacking for any motivation right now in the playoffs.”

The Warriors (11-2) are led by quarterback Elijah Walker, a Louisiana Tech commitment.

“He’s played extremely well in the playoffs,” said Jenkins. “When you break down some of the things they have done, some games they haven’t scored a ton of points but he’s just been real efficient completing passes at a high rate and last week he really did damage with his legs. In two of their scoring drives in a game they win 20-12, they had three scoring drives and in two of those drives they had a third-and-20 and a third-and-15 and he does it with his legs, scrambling and picking up huge first downs on drives that lead to scores.

“He throws the ball extremely well. He’s capable of running. He’s a really good athlete and he’s played the position for awhile now and he’s extremely experienced.”

Walker’s top target is receiver Devonta Smith, a Southeastern Conference-caliber recruit.

“In many of the recruiting realms, he’s the No. 1 recruit in the state. He plays all over the field. He makes huge catches every game,” said Jenkins.

Another top target is Devonta Lee, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore.

“Devonta Lee may not be as dynamic as the other Devonta, but he’s another capable weapon,” Jenkins.

Dearion Sims was the Warriors’ top runner during the regular season but many of the postseason carries have gone to Walker.

“He’s the guy that’s gotten the big carries in big situations, and you can’t blame them,” said Jenkins. “If you look at us, Jontre Kirklin has gotten those big carries in those big situations. When you have a guy that is a Division I-caliber guy, those guys just want the ball in their hands and you want the ball in your best players’ hands when the game is on the line.”

Amite often lines up with four wide receivers and one back. In the playoffs, according to Jenkins, the Warriors have turned more to Walker’s running ability.

“They like to throw it but over the last couple of weeks Walker has done more and more damage on the ground,” the Lutcher coach explained.

Like on offense, Smith garners a lot of attention on defense for the Warriors.

“He plays safety and corner. His speed and ability to cover ground is something you have to be concerned about. If you put a ball up in the air, there is a great chance he will come down with it. He can cover a lot of ground when he’s playing safety and in seems like in certain games they are playing him at corner and trying to lock one guy up,” said Jenkins.

Another athlete that plays on the defensive side is Myron Dokes.

“He lines up inside and outside, whether it’s at corner or strong safety. He seems to make a lot of plays and always is around the ball,” Jenkins.

The Warriors have size up front in the form of 250 pound Marlon Banks and the Sopsher brothers. Rodney Sopsher is a 6-foot-3, 255 pound senior while younger brother Ishmael is a 6-foot-5, 280-pound sophomore.

“He is going to be a SEC-level recruit,” Jenkins said of Ishmael Sopsher.

As always, the Warriors are built around speed.

“They will be able to run sideline-to-sideline and you know that team speed aspect will probably be on their side. It normally is. The thing that kind of makes that team a little different is just the size they have up front,” said Jenkins.

Most coaches hate to deviate from the normal routine but Jenkins said he doesn’t mind the Saturday noon kickoff.

“I kind of like it. I really like the fact we play the first game,” said Jenkins. “When you get to the state championship games, if you talk to coaches that it’s tough to deal with, it’s not knowing when the start times will be and having to wait.

“At least when you play the noon game on a Saturday, you know you are starting at noon and you can plan accordingly and stick to a script and keep your kids in a normal routine.”

All season long, the Bulldogs have had to deal with the burden of being a defending state champion. Now, they are on the cusp of making history.

“It’s something special. This is the 91st season of Lutcher football and there’s only been seven state champions so we have a chance for No. 8,” said Jenkins. “One of the things our senior class has talked about is that it can be the greatest senior class in Lutcher High School. In the history of this school, they could be the best – the only ones to do it twice. It’s something this team has not shied away from.

“Our kids have known Dec. 10, 2015 since February as being the one thing we are working for. Now it’s here and we are 48 minutes away from doing something no team in the history of this school has done. I know our kids are up for the challenge.”

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.