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Riverside Rebels’ opener now on the road against Southern Lab

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  • George Becnel
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  • August 30, 2017 - 6:58pm

File photosChris Lachney has made the transition from defensive coordinator to head coach as Riverside opens the 2017 against Southern Lab on Thursday night in Walker.

Chris Lachney and his top-ranked Riverside Academy Rebels have spent the week trying to figure out who their foe will be in the season opener.

“You might be playing a dragon or you might be playing a butterfly. I’m going to prepare for the dragon because if I prepare for the butterfly, it’s going to be trouble. We will base everything off what the players we see on film right now and assume they are all going to play. That’s really the only thing that we can do,” said Lachney.

Lachney was referring to the fact that Southern Lab – Riverside’s Week 1 opponent – may be just as uncertain as who is eligible to play for the team as the Kittens are.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association recently came down hard on Southern Lab for recruiting violations. The school was forced to vacate Division IV state titles in 2015 and 2016, along with a runner-up finish in 2014. South Lab also was placed on probation and fined $5,000.

As a consequence of the action, Marcus Randall was dismissed as coach and the eligibility status of current Southern Lab players is in question.

Even the venue of the game has been in doubt all week but for a completely different reason. The Riverside-Southern Lab game was slated for 7 p.m. Friday in Reserve but with torrential rain for days, the Rebels’ natural grass surface would have taken a beating if a game was played.

It wasn’t until Wednesday that it was finally decided the game would be played at 7 p.m. Thursday in Walker.

“When looking at the circumstances with the weather and us having a natural-grass field, we had to make a decision of what is best for our team and best for our team not only this week but in the long run. We were concerned about the amount of rain that we’ve had the last few days would not put us in a great position to take care of our field in the long run. So, we searched high and low to find a stadium with a turf field that could accommodate us on such short notice and we were very fortunate that the people at Walker High School were able to welcome us in and accommodate us and provide our kids and fans with an opportunity to have a big game played in nice conditions,” Lachney said.

The Rebels have had a philosophy in recent years of being more concerned about themselves than any particular opponent. That philosophy has seriously been put to the test over a two-week period. Riverside’s jamboree opponent, Mandeville, saw its coach depart only days before the game. Now, the Rebels play for real against a team that had just brought in a new coach.

“I can’t worry about that. I can’t concern myself with anyone but our team. There are some things we can control and some things we can’t and we are going to feverishly control the things that we can and complete ignore the things that we can. That’s never truer than this week,” Lachney said.

Instead of elevating an assistant coach to the head job on an interim basis, Southern Lab brought in a coach from outside to lead the Kittens. Darrell Asberry was named as the new coach. A former Southern Lab and Jackson State quarterback, Asberry was an assistant at Belaire at the time of his hiring by his alma mater.

With a new coach coming in on such short notice, there is no way to know what the Kittens may run offensively or defensively, according to Lachney.

“You don’t know what the new coach will do,” Lachney said. “Will they run the same offense? Are they running the same defense? What does their kicking game look like?

“You always go into Week 1 with questions like that. The fact this one is exasperated by the situation over there, makes it a little bit more pressing to adapt to what you see on the fly. But our coaching staff does a great job of preparing our kids for everything. We don’t always teach things that are specific to one team; we kind of talk about all the possibilities that could happen. I think our staff does a good job of preparing our kids for this type of situation.”

The one silver lining in the situation for the Rebels is the game comes as the season opener.

“There are always questions going into the first game because you really don’t have a database of good information to base anything off of. Being that this is Week 1, it’s not as different as you might think,” Lachney said.

The Rebels go into the game not knowing what schemes the new Southern Lab coach may run. Also unknown is the personnel that will be on the field for the Kittens since the eligibility of current players is still unknown.

If there is an assumption to be made, it might be that with the switch in coaches coming so close to the start of the season, the schemes Asberry may want to run couldn’t be implemented in so short a time frame, even if he wanted to make changes.

As a runner-up finish and two state titles in the last three years suggest, the Kittens were operating just fine under their current systems.

“They were a very straightforward team,” Lachney explained. “What you see is what you get. There weren’t a lot of frills and a lot of trick plays. They were going to line up and they average 305 pounds across the offensive line and they do what smart coaches do when you have 300-pound linemen, they pound the ball. They want to run the ball and get in your face and make it a physical football game.

“We like that, too. If everything stays kind of status quo over there, it will be a good test of strength against strength. On defense, we like to be in your face and we like to be physical and so do they on offense.”

The scheme for Southern Lab has been much the same, according to Lachney.

“They don’t have to change too much from week to week because they are so simple on defense,” the Riverside coach said. “They don’t have to kind of morph their defense to match whatever offense they are playing that week and it allows their kids to have a lot of repetitions and a lot of continuity so they are able to get good at it.

“All we can do is prepare our kids the best way to play. For us to get into the weeds and say we will do this specifically for Southern Lab, I don’t think that would be advantageous to us this week or any week.”

Top offensive players for the Kittens have been running backs Tyrion Davis and Charvis Thornton. The eye-catcher along the offensive line is 6-foot-4, 350-pound guard Kardell Thomas.

“They are kind of a two-headed monster on offense,” Lachney said of the Kittens. “They will line up with a traditional tight end and two backs and they will just hand the ball to the tailback and they will run between the tackles and run the football. Then, they will shift gears and be in four wide receivers – and they have four wide receivers out there that are very capable of beating you – so they really have the best of both worlds.”

Southern Lab has been utilizing a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.

“They have a plug-and-play type system,” said Lachney. “They will line up like this no matter how you line up. They will play their techniques regardless of the formation or the down-and-distance – and it works for them.

“They are a four-man front and it’s really hard to outflank them because they’ve got so many linebackers in the game, so it’s easy for them to adjust to whatever formation you throw at them. You will have to beat them with the chess match in the box and try and make some plays on the perimeter if you can.”

The leader of the defense is linebacker Damone Clark, a LSU commitment.

“He plays physical and is a big kid. He’s fast and heads downhill and does well in coverage,” said Shane Bohrer, Riverside’s offensive coordinator.

Another top defender for the Rebels is 6-foot-7, 270-pound defensive lineman Christopher Welch.

“He’s a real physical kid. He comes off the ball super aggressive. He gets upfield well and redirects to the ball. He’s really fast for a big guy,” Bohrer said of Welch.

The status of the Southern Lab coach and players, along with a venue change, has been a bit of a distraction – but a distraction Lachney might quietly welcome since it may have overshadowed that he will be making his debut as the Rebels’ new head coach.

“I’m excited about our game, whether this is my first game or my 200th game. I’m going to be excited and take the same approach,” Lachney said. “There are so many other things that really are more important to me than some sort of celebration of my first game as the head coach at Riverside. That’s really not even close to being on the forefront of my thought right now. But yeah, obviously people are going to talk about that stuff but I don’t have a quote because I don’t even know what to say to that.”

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.