Belle Chasse poised to build on success of last season
When you play tough competition and play in a tough league, you are going to be a tough out for any opponent in the state playoffs.
Belle Chasse was Exhibit A for that theory a year ago.
The Cardinals, who compete in a district with two of the elite teams in Louisiana in Karr and Warren Easton, navigated a very tough regular season schedule and went into the playoffs battled tested, without fear.
Belle Chasse shocked fifth-seed Plaquemine 21-19 on the road in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs in 2017 before a narrow, heartbreaking 14-13 loss to 12th-seed Woodlawn of Shreveport in the second round, completing a 7-5 season.
The Cardinals are poised to build on last year’s success with a very experienced team which returns 15 starters, providing great optimism for fifth-year head coach Stephen Meyers.
“We have a lot of starters back and we improved so much from the beginning to the end of the season tremendously last year,” Meyers said. “We were less than two yards from advancing to the quarterfinals. We fully expect to continue improving and to get better.”
That includes seven starters on offense.
Leading the way on offense is junior quarterback Jordan Mariana (5-8, 180), who matured running the spread option a year ago. Senior Ralph Jones (5-11, 175) is an outstanding athlete as well and will share time at quarterback and will be on the field at other spots on offense as well.
“If Ralph is not at quarterback, he will line up at running back or receiver,” Meyers said. “He will also play some at defensive back. He’s our best athlete. He was out until week seven last year and that really hurt us. Having him for a whole year will be really good for us. Jordan has experience and we should throw the ball better this year. Jordan made the biggest improvement out of everyone last year. It all goes through him. He got thrown in early but he really got better.”
Seniors Noah Mariana (5-9, 210) and Shawn Thompson (5-7, 230) return as two-way performers at running back and linebacker for the Cardinals. Senior Ratray Gaines (5-11, 180) and sophomore Twillie Lovett (5-10, 175) will also play large roles in the run-oriented offense of Meyers.
“We have solid experience at running back and like our group,” Meyers said. “We have no doubt that we can run it well again.”
The tight end is junior Charlie Burt (5-11, 210).
Up front, senior Cody Taylor (6-2, 280) is the best player while senior Dave Turner (6-0, 285) is outstanding and will see action on both sides of the ball.
The offensive line returns others with experience, including senior Sherod Manuel (5-9, 210) and sophomore Saverio Rolle (5-9, 210). Senior Bryce Manis (6-2, 240) should be the fifth starter.
“We lost three starting offensive linemen from last year but we have some experience back,” Meyers said. “We feel we will be better.”
There are eight defensive starters returning, including the entire defensive front.
The defensive line includes seniors Ashton Riley (6-2, 220) and Turner, along with junior Brennon Groves (6-2, 270).
The linebackers are seniors Noah Mariana, Javonte Jimcoly (6-1, 205) and Eric Ragas (5-10, 190), along with junior Eddie Jones (5-8, 180). Mariana and Ragas are the standouts.
“The front seven on defense is the best part of our team,” Meyers said. “We have everyone back. Ragas and Mariana are very good. We are five or six deep on the defensive line and can rotate guys. They can all run and have good size and are strong.”
The secondary returns a pair of starters in senior Quinton Coludrovich (5-10, 165) and junior Jaleel Bently (5-10, 175). The new starters are junior Shai Charles (5-10, 170) and Sherill Manuel (5-8, 140).
“Our defensive back position is a work in progress,” Meyers said. “We will play some guys from offense there. That is our only concern on that side of the football but we have two guys who have seen action previously whom we expect to be leaders for us.”
The kicker is sophomore Tyler Fury (5-8, 140) while the punter is junior Jordan Mariana (5-8, 180).
The schedule is loaded with home games, including the first five and six of the first seven.
It opens with the battle of Plaquemines Parish at home against South Plaquemines on Aug. 31. Archbishop Shaw visits in week two before Higgins, KIPP Renaissance and Sophie B. Wright make the trek to Belle Chasse. The Cardinals have a good shot at getting off to a very good start before starting district play as their five pre-district opponents combined to go just 12-38 a year ago.
“Hopefully we can get off to a good start,” Meyers said. “Game one is crucial. You want to get off good and that is a rivalry, as is the Shaw game. Higgins could be improved. We have a chance to have a good start but we have to avoid injuries as we do not have a lot of depth.”
District 9-4A play opens in brutal fashion against two of the best teams in Louisiana as the Cardinals face Warren Easton Oct. 4 at Pan American Stadium before hosting defending Class 4A state champion Karr on Oct. 11.
“We start district with the two killer teams,” Meyers said. “You have to survive that. We have a trip to South Terrebonne and Helen Cox is an improved team. We know it will be a huge challenge but we are ready for it.”
A non-district game follows at South Terrebonne before the Cardinals take on McMain in district play on Oct. 25 and close the regular season at home on Nov. 2 with a district contest against Helen Cox.
With a very experienced team and friendly non-district schedule, look for Belle Chasse to exceed last year’s win total and have a chance to at least as far, if not further in the Class 4A playoffs in 2018.
“The players are comfortable with our system, our coaching staff is intact,” Meyers said. “There is familiarity and that breeds a lot of confidence. We just cannot kill ourselves. We are not a fast, speedy team, more of a physical, methodical team. We are faster than last year, stronger than last year and more experienced than last season. We expect to have a good season.”
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