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Rebels finally back in action against unbeaten Newman

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  • George Becnel
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  • October 11, 2017 - 4:38pm

File photosNewman coach Nelson Stewart has his Greenies unbeaten heading into their contest with the Riverside Academy Rebels on Friday night in New Orleans.

Riverside Academy faced a gut-check when it took on the Newman Greenies a year ago.

The Rebels fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter before ultimately taking a hard-fought 32-24 victory.

“I think that was a turning point in our season,” said Chris Lachney, Riverside’s head coach, who was the team’s defensive coordinator a year ago. “Our series with Newman has always told a lot about us as a team. If you look back on this series, at least for the last five or six years, no matter how good we’ve been or how good Newman’s been or how down either one of us has been, it’s always been a highly-contested game. It’s always been really a good high school football game between two programs that respect one another and two programs that, I think, bring out the best in each other.

“They played a phenomenal first half last year against us and really made us dig down deep and find out who we were. I believe that comeback really jumpstarted our championship run and made our kids believe that we were in control of our destiny and on one else was.”

Riverside’s destiny was a Division III state championship. That may seem like a very long time ago, given the fact the Rebels have only played four games in 2017 entering Friday’s Week 7 encounter at Newman on Friday night.

With the Riverside at South Plaquemines game cancelled last week because of Hurricane Nate, the Rebels have had two open dates through the first six weeks of the season. Coupled with a Week 10 open date, the Rams will have played 30 percent fewer games than just about everyone else in the state.

“That’s a concern of ours, not strategically speaking, not power-point speaking, but just a lack of reps,” Lachney said. “Our kids have played two less football games than anybody else in the state, basically. There is some ‘seasoning’ you would expect to have going into Week 7 and our team is in Week 5.

“That is something we are trying to manage. That is something we are trying to simulate in practice. They call it ‘practice’ for a reason and they call it ‘games’ for a reason. You can never truly simulate game situations in practice but we will do our very best to do that.”

Despite a 1-3 start, the Rebels go into Friday’s game ranked No. 8 in Class 2A. Newman is 6-0 and cracks the Top 10 at No. 9.

“They are a very good football team, as they always are,” Lachney said of the Greenies. “They do a really good job in their offensive and defensive schemes to put their kids in the best position to be successful. Their kids are playing with a lot of confidence right now. The kids are playing very fast and they believe in their system and they play accordingly.”

The Greenies feature a new quarterback in Martin Butcher. The junior is just the latest in a line of top quarterbacks for Newman, according to Lachney.

“In order to do what they do on offense, you have to have a guy back there that not only has physical ability but has the football I.Q. and the moxie of a game manager and a very god distributor of the football. He’s right in line with all those guys. I don’t know if he’s as mobile as Miles Lapeyre was for the last couple of years – and that’s not a knock on him; that’s more of a Miles Lapeyre is a very special quarterback – he’s much more of a distributor. He’s not as much a play extender but he is someone who is very capable of managing that offense and running it and having success with it,” the Riverside coach said.

Newman’s top running threat is senior James Poche.

“He’s the guy. He’s the guy we have to stop. He’s where it starts on offense,” said Lachney. “Newman always has a reputation of being a pass-first team but they are not. That’s kind of their strategy is to make people think you are doing one thing but you are actually doing another.

“What they do in the running game, it starts up front and it starts with James Poche. If they are not as good as they are at running the football than it really makes it more difficult to throw. They run it well enough where things stay open in the passing game.”

The receiving corps is led by speedster Murray Calhoun.

“He won the 100-meter dash in the regional track meet. He’s the fastest sprinter in the south regional. That says a mouthful. He’s certainly a guy that can stretch the field vertically in the passing game but also horizontally with screens and whatnot,” said Lachney.

Other receivers include Jarmone Sutherland and Dylon Hill.

“There’s one thing that is going to be consistent about a Newman offense is that there is going to be a bunch of guys that don’t drop passes and are always open. That’s the challenge we have. We have to be very good at what we do because they are going to be very good at what they do,” Lachney said.

The Greenies have a bit of a different look this season on defense, especially along the line, according to Lachney.

“They are much tougher than they have been in years past. They are a physical defensive front,” he said.

The big guy up front is defensive end Brandon Williams, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore.

“We’ve always known he was a pass rusher but I was impressed with his ability to get his hands on blockers and plays good technique and he’s definitely a guy we will have to deal with on every snap,” Lachney said.

Another top defender is linebacker Isaac Andry.

“He’s a good run player and a good open-field tackler. He’s a guy that really gets them going on defense as well. He’s an attitude guy,” Lachney said of Andry.

Just as the Rebels’ game with Newman helped to propel Riverside to bigger things a year ago, the same could be said of the Greenies, according to Lachney.

“They played us very well last year and I would expect nothing else from them this year. At the same, while that second half proved to us what we could become, that first half proved to them what they could become and they kind of took that momentum and ran with it and made a quarterfinal run. I think this matchup has typically had a positive outcome for both teams no matter who won it or lost it,” the Riverside coach said.

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.