Sterlington (2-1) at Mangham (2-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

Sterlington's defense will need to be on its toes as it lines up against an unorthodox Mangham offense Friday night in Richland Parish. Game time is 7 p.m.

In 17 years as an assistant, including time as Neville's defensive coordinator, Sterlington head coach Jason Thompson thought he had seen the full gamut of offensive looks. But that was before viewing the Dragons on film.

“It's a variation of the Wing-T with some Notre Dame Box principles, Thompson said, describing Mangham's alignment. “I told our kids this is my first time to see this. It's definitely different, but they're effective and good at it.”

One of the biggest challenges a defense faces against the deception-based offense is keeping track of the ball.

“Offensively, they're highly-skilled. They're very adept at using the misdirection play to their advantage,” Thompson said. “Defensively, we have to play sound, responsible football and not get caught up in all the misdirection. We have to play assignment football.”

Quarterback Ridge Heisler, wing Abdullah Rhone and slotback Kemme Weeks make the Dragons go offensively.

Mangham (2-1) opened the season with victories over Jena (37-6) and Richwood (49-14), before bowing to Caldwell Parish 14-8 last week. This marks the fourth straight week for the Class 1A Dragons to play an opponent from a higher classification.

Like the Dragons, the Panthers (2-1) are trying to rebound from their first loss, a 16-6 setback against two-time defending Class 1A state champion Ouachita Christian.

“The kids played hard,” Thompson said of the OCS game, “but at the same time, we need to get to the point where we play hard and play well. We have to put them together.

“We need to see continued improvement fundamentally. We're still missing assignments and we're still lining up in the wrong alignments.”

Opening the season with consecutive wins over a pair of Class 4A teams — Benton (34-31) and West Ouachita (35-20) — the Panthers were able control the ball and shorten the game. Thompson says the Panthers need to get back to that formula this week.
“We need to get better offensively at sustaining drives. We weren't able to do that against OCS,” Thompson said. “We have to be able to do that this week. We need some eight, 10, 12-play drives.”

Thompson says achieving the ball control objective will be a challenge against a good Mangham defense.

“Defensively, they're athletic in the secondary,” Thompson said. “Their linebackers tackle well and their defensive line is big and physical.”

Tailback Jaylon Wade is the Panthers' offensive catalyst with 42 carries for 326 yards and four touchdowns and is also the team's leading receiver with two receptions for 51 yards. Fullback Austin Haman has contributed 144 yards and three scores on 24 attempts.

Defensive leaders for the Panthers include linebacker Cody McGuire (35 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack), end DeMarcus Matthews (27 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks), safety Semaj Colvin (26 tackles), tackle Nick Naile (23 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) and linebacker Calvin Clay (22 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack).

Closing out pre-district play, Sterlington entertains Homer next Friday.