The No. 10 seed in the Division III playoffs seems to suit the Riverside Academy Rebels just fine.
“Coming into this week, we knew we would be 9, 10, or small possibility of 11. At the 9 seed, you would have a good matchup with Episcopal but (in the opening round) if you get past them, then you have to go to Notre Dame. Overall, we thought the 10th seed was the better approach, if we could get there,” first-year Riverside coach Kevin Dizer said.
The Rebels got their wish and will travel to take on Ascension Episcopal on Friday night in Lafayette.
Riverside goes into the game 3-6 while Ascension Episcopal is 8-2.
“Ascension Episcopal is a good team; a well-coached team but I think it’s a team we match up with and have a chance to go on the road and win,” Dizer said. “When you watch them on tape, they are really good on offense. They can score a lot of points. In those two losses (38-24 to Berwick and 58-35 to Catholic of New Iberia), those were shootout games and they kind of just let it get away at the end.”
The Blue Gators’ offense, Dizer said, all starts with 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back Jhalen Brown.
“He’s a bruiser. If you let him get a head of steam, he’s a hard guy to bring down. If you let him get going, it will really put you in a bind defensively because that will allow them to be balanced,” the Riverside coach said.
Besides Brown, the next chore for the Rebels will be to try and contain Ascension Episcopal quarterback Cole Simon.
“He’s a little Johnny Manziel,” said Dizer, coming Brown to the former Heisman Trophy winner. “He’s running around and throwing it all over the place. He reminds me a lot of our guy, Gage Larvadain. He’s very similar. He’s a hard guy to sack and he extends plays and is always looking to throw the ball on the run.”
Ascension Episcopal returns three receivers from a year ago. The headliner of the group is Seth Kerstetter.
“He’s probably their go-to guy at receiver. They like to throw a lot of bubbles to him. They put him in the backfield and run some wildcat stuff. He’s a really good athlete,” said Dizer.
Only three starters returned to Ascension Episcopal’s defense from a year ago.
“They don’t have just one guy that will stand out on defense. They have 11 guys that play extremely hard. They fly to the football. When you see them on defense, they remind me of our guys on defense. They seem to be young and not very big, but they play hard and fly to the football the whole time and they get after it. They are always a four-man front and they play a decent amount of cover-3 and what seems to be some cover-2,” Dizer said.
In playoff time, Dizer said, it basically comes down to one thing.
“That’s the key word this time of year, it’s all about ‘execution,’” he said.
Except for one team, the Division III race to a state title could be wide open, according to Dizer.
“You look at our bracket, I’m just going to be honest about it; there’s Notre Dame and there’s everybody else,” Dizer said. “I think there are a numerous amount of teams that can come out of the bracket, especially on our side of the bracket. It’s all about execution.
“When you look at Ascension Episcopal, they are not more talented than we are. In fact, we may be a little more talented than they are. I don’t know because I haven’t seen them in person, but it’s not like we’re outmatched. It’s all about execution. If our guys execute and make the right calls and make the right plays, I think we will be fine. But that’s something we haven’t been able to do for four quarters this year.”
A win over Ascension Episcopal would set up a rematch with Country Day. The Cajuns received an opening-round bye so the game again would be played in Metairie.
“We’re not going to talk to the team about it and I’m not going to talk to anybody about it,” Dizer said. “It’s no secret I would like another shot at Country Day. I don’t think the public knows how good of a game that was because of how it got away from us late at the end.
“I wouldn’t want anything more than a shot at Country Day but that is not our motivation for this week. Our motivation for this week is to win this football game and if we have a shot to play Country Day, we will deal with that when that gets here.”