Baker (3-7) at Sterlington (10-0), Thursday, 7 p.m.
Awarded the No. 1 slot in Class 3A, Sterlington will have home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs Thursday night against Baker. Kickoff time is 7 p.m. at Panther Stadium.
Baker coach Eric Randall says the Panthers are worthy of the top seed.
"They won state last year, moved up to 3A and kept rolling," said Randall, who is in his second season in charge of the Buffaloes. "I don't see any weaknesses. They don't have a lot of big kids, but they have to be pretty strong. Some of their games, they look like David against Goliath, but they are pushing the bigger kids around. They do a fine job up there. To be 10-0, they must be doing a lot of things right."
Winners of 19 straight, the Panthers completed a perfect regular season last week by defeating Richwood 28-21 to claim the District 2-3A championship. Now it's on to the postseason where there is no margin for error.
"What do you have for a loss now? Nothing," Sterlington coach Lee Doty said. "Lose now, and there is nothing you can gain. If you lose during the year, you can learn from it and build on it."
As the No. 1 seed, owners of the state's second-longest active winning streak and coming off of the 2016 Class 2A state championship, there is no doubt the Panthers have a target on their back. Doty has reminded his team to avoid the pitfalls of looking ahead and playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win.
"We have talked about not looking forward and not looking behind," Doty said. "We have to keep our focus on this week. We have talked about playing not to lose. The kids know what they have to do. They have to go out there and make things happen."
Doty has also warned the Panthers about getting caught up in looking at the bracket. As the No. 32 seed, Baker (3-7) was the final team to qualify.
"Baker is the No. 32 seed, but they are excited because they didn't think they were going to make it," Doty said. "They are going to be trying to win when they come in here."
Baker got off to an 0-3 start with losses to Northeast (46-22), Dunham (52-42) and McKinley (38-34) before evening its record with consecutive wins over Brusly (32-6), Glen Oaks (38-0) and Mentorship Academy (52-28). Since then, the Buffaloes have dropped four straight at the hands of Madison Prep (28-22), Baton Rouge Episcopal (38-18), West Feliciana (58-0) and University High (45-0).
"They struggled their last three games, but a lot of teams would struggle against those three," Doty said.
Indeed, the Buffaloes last three regular season opponents have a combined record of 27-3.
Despite its recent struggles, Baker has several big-play threats, including senior quarterback Terry Johnson, sophomore running back Desmond Windom and senior wide receiver Claude Coleman.
"They are multiple offensively," Doty said. "They run the I and some spread. They have a good plan. Their quarterback is very athletic and can throw the ball, and they have four receivers who can catch."
Coleman, who sees time at linebacker, and lineman Dillon Cage see double duty. Cage, linebacker Cameron King and cornerback Keldrick Brumfield are part of a promising sophomore class.
"They had to play last year as freshmen," Randall said of the sophomores. "Coming in as a new coaching staff, we went with the young kids and took our bumps and bruises."
Sterlington has an athletic quarterback of its own in senior Carson Clowers, who has passed for 655 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions while rushing for 631 yards and 8 TDs.
Senior tailback Austin Dupree has emerged as the Panthers' workhorse. Dupree has produced 1,496 all-purpose yards (1,325 rushing, 41 receiving, 130 kickoff returns). Last week, he rushed for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a career-high 32 carries.
Continuing to make his way back from a fractured ankle in Week 1, Malik Davis (26 carries, 144 yards, 4 TDs) is available to spell Dupree.
"We're glad to have Malik back," Doty said.
Fullback Luke Denman (102-498-8) and tailback Dallas Reagor (60-476-4) round out the deep rushing attack.
Sterlington averages 401.6 total yards per game (328 rushing, 73.7 passing).
Tight end Brooks Rushworth (21 receptions, 336 yards, 5 TDs) and wide receiver Davis Johnson (11-160-2), who caught the game-winning touchdown pass vs. Richwood, are Clowers' primary targets.
Defensively, the Panthers are led by the secondary of Trey Eddins (34 tackles, 2 INTs), Dorian Eddins (32 tackles, 1 INT), Cole Jones (39 tackles), Chris Parker (32 tackles, 1 INT) and Trevor Jones (50 tackles, 1 INT).
NEXT: Thursday's victor awaits the winner of Friday's game between No. 17 Union Parish and No. 16 Donaldsonville.
Other first-round pairings include No. 24 Washington-Marion at No. 9 Loranger, No. 25 North Vermilion at No. 8 Richwood, No. 28 KIPP Renaissance at No. 5 Kaplan, No. 21 Patterson at No. 12 Iota, No. 20 Madison Prep at No. 13 Caldwell, No. 29 Marksville at No. 4 St. James, No. 30 Westlake at No. 3 Jena, No. 19 Avoyelles at No. 14 Northwest, No. 22 Eunice at No. 11 Berwick, No. 27 North Webster at No. 6 West Feliciana, No. 26 Carroll at No. 7 Church Point, No. 23 Bogalusa at No. 10 Jennings, No. 18 Crowley at No. 15 Albany and No. 31 Wossman at No. 2 Iowa.
POWs: Sterlington's Week 10 Players of the Week were Austin Dupree (offense), Chandler Moncrief (defense), Trevor Jones (special teams), Brody Green (scout team offense) and Matthew King (scout team defense).