Although Riverside Academy dropped its season opener at Thibodaux last week, there were a number of things second-year coach Kevin Dizer liked about his team.
One positive was the Rebels built a 25-14 halftime lead.
Another is that Riverside got two scores off of its special teams on an 82-yard kickoff return by Ahmonte Watkins and an 80-yard return by Cade Middleton of a blocked field goal.
The big negative came as the Rebels allowed Thibodaux to score the first 22 points of the second half to turn the game around.
“What I saw in Week 1 is that our kids are going to fight all the way to the end,” Dizer said. “They had every chance to lay down and they didn’t do that.
“After blowing that lead, they still fought back and gave ourselves a real good shot to win it. The score was 43-31 but I don’t think people realize it was 36-31 and we had the ball at the 10-yard line with a chance to win that game.”
The Rebels play on the road for the second week in a row when they travel to Donaldsonville to take on Ascension Catholic on Friday. The Bulldogs were 12-2 a year ago and reached the Division IV championship game for the second year in row.
The Bulldogs feature a new coach but one who certainly isn’t a stranger to Ascension Parish. Benny Saia, who led Dutchtown to a 10-54 record is now the top dog at Ascension Parish.
With him comes a change in offensive philosophy for the Bulldogs, now sporting a version of the Wing-T.
“Before, they were pretty multiple. I wouldn’t call it a spread team but they had two pretty good running backs that they used a lot. It’s not even close to what they were running before,” said Dizer.
Regardless of a change to the scheme, the guy still to stop for the Bulldogs is running back Jai Williams.
Williams rushed for more than 2,700 yards and 32 touchdowns during the regular a year ago.
“I don’t think that overall he will be the most talented back we will see but he may be the hardest runner that we face. He has a never-say-die type of attitude. It’s going to take 11 guys running to the ball all night on defense to keep him corralled,” Dizer said.
Williams also is one of Ascension Catholic’s top defenders at running back.
That comes at no surprise for the Bulldogs, who start virtually all of the same players on both sides of the ball.
Joining Williams in the backfield is fellow running aback Eric Simon. Simon also starts at cornerback.
“He’s a really good overall athlete,” Dizer said of Simon. “He kind of has the skill set to do a little bit of everything and they let him do a little bit of everything. He plays receiver, he plays the wingback for them, he plays corner on defense and is a factor in the return game.”,
Another runner, Dorian Barbier, is also a starting linebacker.
“He’s one of their top athletes. He gets a lot of touches in the run game and on defense he mixes it up. He’s an undersized guy and is pretty tough playing both sides of the ball,” Dizer said of the 5-foot-, 165-pound senior.
One spot that does not feature a two-way player is at quarterback. However, the Bulldogs use two at the position in junior Jacob Dunn and freshman Bryce Leonard.
“It’s really hard to tell with the small sample size the rhyme or reason for why they are rotating two of them,” said Dizer. “I’m just not sure.
“From what we can tell on film, they have the same skill set. They both do a pretty good job of running that offense but they are not throwing the football very much at all. They might attempt 10 passes a game.”
Linemen work on both sides of the ball.
Passing the eye test on either side of the ball is Nicholas Hilliard, a 6-foot-4, 309 pound senior.
“He is a man. There is no two ways about it. I think he is better on the offensive side of the football. He’s a really good guard. On the defensive side, they put him on the nose,” said Dizer.
J’Mond Tapp is a 6-foot-4, 237-pound sophomore.
“He has the potential to be one of the highest-recruited kids in the state. He’s an absolute freak and does a good job on the d-line and is such a good athlete he plays receiver on offense,” Dizer pointed out.
Other two-way guys include Owen Smith and Sam Mire.
Smith plays guard and defensive end, while Mire is a center and linebacker.
“We do play some guys two ways but not nearly to the extent of Ascension Catholic. We’re really going to have to try and use that to our advantage. They pretty much play all of their guys two ways. They might have a total of 20 guys that touch the field all night long,” said Dizer.
The key for success on Friday, Dizer said, likely will come from two sources.
“Offensively this year, we’ve done a good job of moving the football,” the Riverside coach said. “We have to start punching it into the end zone more consistently. If we can do that, we will have a real good chance.
“Defensive success is really simple; it’s who is going to win the battle between No. 33 and our defense. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. Jai Williams is the heart and soul of that football team. If can stop him, we have a chance for success.”