West Ouachita (1-0) at Sterlington (1-0), Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeking its second straight win over a Class 4A opponent, Sterlington closes out a two-game homestand against the West Ouachita Chiefs on Friday at 7 p.m.
Both teams are coming off of impressive season-opening victories.
West Ouachita, which smoked Tioga 44-14 last week, appears to be much-improved after back-to-back 2-8 campaigns.
“They've always been big and strong,” Sterlington coach Jason Thompson said. “This year, they're big, strong and aggressive. Their offensive and defensive lines are impressive. They get off the ball well and stay low.”
With 18 seniors on the roster, the Chiefs have one of their most experienced squads in recent years.
“They're well-coached. Joey and his staff have done a real good job with that bunch,” Thompson said, referring to West Ouachita coach Joey Pender. “Joey realizes he has a good group.”
Tailback Joseph Tassin (5-10, 185, jr.) rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Chiefs against Tioga.
Among the Chiefs' other primary threats are quarterback Clay LaBeff (5-10, 170, jr.) and flanker Josh Huddleston (5-8, 170, jr.).
Thompson says the Panthers' keys to victory remain the same this week.
“I feel like I'm being repetitive, but we have to win the turnover battle and time of possession to have a chance,” Thompson said.
Sterlington enters the game on a high note after a thrilling 31-27 victory over Benton in Thompson's head coaching debut.
Trailing 31-27 and facing fourth-and-four from their own 12 with 2:10 remaining, the Panthers went for broke. Inserting cornerback Jaylon King into the lineup at wide receiver during a timeout, the Panthers called a reverse. King responded with a 84-yard jaunt all the way to the 4, setting up the game-winning touchdown.
Thompson says the call was a calculated gamble.
“We weren't sure we would get the ball back if we punted and we felt like the reverse was there,” Thompson said.
With 1:20 still to play, Thompson wasn't able to relax just yet.
“Benton can score quick, but we were able to stop them on fourth down and secure the win,” Thompson said. “The defense got us a big stop.”
Predictably, Thompson saw room for improvement, but was ecstatic about the result.
“In the first half, we struggled some offensively, but we made some adjustments in the second half and made some key plays defensively,” Thompson said. “Fundamentally, we're still not where we want to be and need to be. But the kids played with great effort and we were able to pull it out.”
A season-opening win and a large crowd made for a great night all the way around.
“The community support and the school support was great,” Thompson said. “It's always good to have a big win like that with a great crowd. I hope they show up again this week with it being a parish rivalry game.
“You always want to get that first win under your belt. With Benton being a 4A school, it was a good power points win for us. Hopefully, we'll benefit from it come playoff time. Any time you play up in classification, you have a chance to increase your power points production. We have another opportunity to do that this week, but we have to play well to have a shot.”
Jaylon Wade led the Panthers offensively with 215 yards and two touchdowns vs. Benton.
King set the tone defensively with 14 tackles and an interception.
Thompson said that linebacker Cody McGuire, who underwent offseason knee surgery, played about “20-25 snaps.”
Making the most of his playing time, McGuire registered 10 tackles and a sack.
Linebacker Calvin Clay tallied six stops, a tackle for loss and three quarterback hurries and cornerback D'Montaveious Heard had six tackles and a sack. Nose guard Nick Naile and defensive end Cole Forbes also accounted for sacks.
With four sacks in Week 1, the Panthers are exactly halfway toward matching their total of eight for the entire 2012 season.
Next week, the Panthers make the short trip down Highway 165-South to play two-time defending Class 1A state champion Ouachita Christian.