Country Day’s football program reminds Riverside coach Chris Lachney of the Rebels a few years ago.
“Country Day is a talented football team. They kind of cut their teeth like we did a few years ago. They had a very good basketball team and very good basketball program for a long time. A lot of those kids play both sports so the success is now bleeding into football,” Lachney said.
Lachney’s Rebels (2-4 overall, 1-0 in District 8-2A) host the Cajuns (5-3 overall, 2-1 in district) in the final regular season game of the season for Riverside.
In many ways, the Cajuns still have the looks of a basketball school, according to Lachney.
“The one thing you can tell when you see them in person is you know they are basketball players. They are always the tallest team we play. They are not necessarily the biggest or weight-room kid, but they have to lead the country in players over 6-foot, percentage-wise, anyway,” the Riverside coach said.
One of those tall basketball-turned-football players for Country Day is 6-foot-4 sophomore quarterback Justin Ibieta.
“They pose some threats you from our defensive standpoint. The Ibieta kid is able to distribute the ball very well to many different players,” said Lachney.
“Probably the workhorse and heart and soul of their team is Price Petagna. He’s been that spark for them for the last three years. He just never quits. He’s not a big kid but he plays big,” Lachney said of Petagna, one of the non 6-footers at 5-foot-7.
Ibieta has taller options to throw to in Kaleb Jenkins and Clinton Nicholas.
“They have a couple of different receivers out on the perimeter to get it through and they are really not trying to stretch the field vertically as much as they are put players in conflict. That’s kind of how they are built,” Lachney explained.
Country Day’s top runner is junior Buckner Heebe.
“He’s right in the mold with all the Country Day running backs we’ve seen the past few years. He’s not a very big kid,” said Lachney.
A strength of the Cajuns, Lachney said, is Country Day coach Joe Chango’s ability calling plays.
“He’s not just a good schemer; he’s a good play-caller. He gets his running back in opportune situations for his running back. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him (Heebe) get the ball and break seven tackles and run away from four more but every time he gets the ball, it’s productive because Coach has called the right play at the right time,” Lachney said.
The top player on Country Day’s defense, Lachney said, is Ross Talbot. The 6-foot-3, 230 pound Talbot is a Jesuit transfer who also sees some action at tight end for the Cajuns.
“They play good team defense. None of them really stand out except for Talbot. He looks out of place on that team. He’s really a big, put-together football player. There are not a whole lot of others like him,” said Lachney.
Friday’s game if the regular-season finale for Riverside. Its district bye week fell in Week 10 and Riverside was unable to find a non-league opponent to fill out the schedule. Because of two other open dates, the Rebels will have played only seven regular-season games in 2017.
“We’ve certainly had a lot of practice with how to deal with bye weeks,” Lachney said. “I don’t know if we’ve figured it out yet but it’s a good chance to rest up some of our injuries, which is the case for everybody this time of year. Also, to take a breath and evaluate where we are as a team and what we are good and bad at and continue to do those things without having to prepare for an opponent.”
All the Rebels can do, Lachney said, is make the best of the situation and begin preparations for the postseason.
“For us, after this, it’s playoff time. We get to start our playoffs a week before everybody else, I guess. It will be a good chance to go out and see some possible opponents Week 10 and kind of sit back and watch everyone else sort each other out and see what our seed is and what our draw it like and then we will give it our best shot in the playoffs,” the Riverside coach said.