East St. John ended up with the No. 18 seed in the Class 5A playoffs and having to open the postseason on the road, but considering what a topsy-turvy season ESJ has endured in 2020, the Wildcats are just happy for an opportunity to play.
“Whether it was 18 or 32, we are just excited to go out and perform,” East St. John coach Brandon Brown said. “We are excited with where we are. We think we have a good matchup with Woodlawn. They are a well-coached team, but I like our chances. We just have to play our best ball. At this time of year, everyone needs to play their best ball, or your season is over.”
All things considered, a road game in Baton Rouge on Friday night, isn’t a bad scenario for the Wildcats.
“Early-on with some preliminary things, we were looking at maybe having to go to Captain Shreve. The game between East Ascension and St. Amant had a big impact on the bracket and things changed a little bit,” said Brown.
Woodlawn earned the right to host Friday’s game at 7 p.m. in Baton Rouge as the No. 15 seed.
The Panthers have been affected by the coronavirus as much as anyone. Woodlawn missed games at the very start of the season because of COVID-19 and went through a second phase, resulting in the Panthers playing only four games.
“Our hats off to them. The number of games they had to miss; however you term it, they are so impressive. That’s a testament to their staff and they’ve really done a good job of holding everything together. That’s what it’s been. It’s been a crazy year,” Brown said.
Woodlawn managed to go 2-2 in those games, knocking off the likes of Dutchtown 26-24 and St. Amant 48-13. One of the losses was 34-27 to Catholic High of Baton Rouge.
“Woodlawn went in and did what they were supposed to do. They beat both of those guys. That’s very impressive,” said Brown.
East St. John is 5-1, having to deal with coronavirus issues of its own. The Wildcats were unable to play the final two weeks of the regular season and didn’t return to practice until Wednesday – only two days before the playoff opener.
“We haven’t had much normalcy when you talk about ‘Friday night football.’ It hasn’t really happened this year with the virus and also with shortage of officials and hurricanes, we’ve played Saturdays, Thursdays, Wednesdays, you name it. The opportunity to play; we’re just excited about that,” Brown said.
Woodlawn’s offense is led by 6-foot-3, 170-pound sophomore quarterback Rickie Collins.
“Their quarterback makes them go. He’s very electric. He’s only a sophomore. He has a big-league arm. He’s a SEC talent. He also moves well with his leg. Everything is centered around that guy,” Brown said of Collins.
The Panthers utilize several players at running back, including versatile Lanard Harris.
“Lanard Harris is a ball player. He plays some running back, some receiver. He’s a safety and linebacker,” Brown said of Harris, who also is a track star.
Amani Givens gets a number of the carries at running back, while Jayveon Haynes gets time at the position as well.
Clayton Adams is the slotback for the Panthers.
“They are spread team. They want to stretch you vertically, but they have those pretty good backs as well,” said Brown.
The Panthers play a 3-4 defense.
“They are very, very fast, physical and aggressive. They play a lot of man-to-man. We will have to be able to pick up the blitzes. They bring pressure from everywhere,” Brown said.
There is quality and quantity in the defensive secondary for Woodlawn.
Along with Harris, there is Eric Randall III.
Randall is the son of Baker coach Eric Randall Jr., and the nephew of Woodlawn coach Marcus Randall.
“He jumps out on film,” Brown said of the younger Randall.
Others in the secondary include Jordan Mathews, Marcus Stewart, and Dawuan Harris.
After missing the past two weeks, East St. John gets a chance to play again on Friday. How much longer ESJ continues to play is up to the Wildcats, according to Brown.
“We have 48 minutes,” the East St. John coach said. “I told the guys, at the end of the game on Friday night, somebody’s time will run out. Either it will be on us or on Woodlawn. That’s the challenge for our guys – dominate these 48 minutes so we get 48 more.
“There are only 20 quarters left of 5A football (through the playoffs) and we are part of that right now. We are only guaranteed four of them. Hopefully, we put out our best effort and get four more and continue to play.”