The Northwest High School football team has achieved something no other Raiders team has done, playing a game the week of Thanksgiving.
With last week’s 22-21 victory over Marksville, Northwest advanced to the Class 3A quarterfinals for the first time in program history, as well as winning the most games in a season.
No. 7 Northwest (11-2) plays at No. 15 St. James (9-3) on Friday night.
That’s a significant improvement from last year’s Raiders team that went 4-6 during the regular season and lost 44-27 to Kaplan in the opening round.
“Everyone knew we were at a disadvantage last year,” second-year Northwest coach Chris Edwards said. “I came in really two weeks to go before the season started. I didn’t know most of the kids, and I didn’t really change the schemes that much either. We just kind of went with the flow last year.
“In the spring, I put in my offense and we got to see the kids grow up and we started to see the pieces come together. I thought then that we had a shot this year.”
The team’s performance this season proved Edwards right as Northwest began the year 6-1, with the lone loss a 41-40 defeat to North Vermilion. A turning point for the team came the week following a 56-25 loss to Eunice, which prevented Northwest from winning the district title.
“One thing that really set the tone was the week after we played Eunice and the kids were really down,” Edwards said. “Some of them were hanging their heads a little bit and doing things that were uncharacteristic. The coaching staff made the decision to put our foot down and we disciplined one of our main guys.
“Chris Lee sat out the first quarter of the Church Point game. He understood why we did it, the team understood why we did it, and everyone knew it was all about the team, and we haven’t lost since.”
Lee has been a large part of that success, especially the playoffs, as the senior running back has rushed for 586 yards and four touchdowns in the two victories. Edwards, though, is quick to point out that his team, which features 14 seniors, is more than just one star player.
Edwards praises the play of his senior offensive linemen Devin Calais and Kirt Bellard, as well as his team’s defensive efforts.
“On the back of our team shirts it says ‘together we will,’ ” Edwards said. “We don’t have that many outstanding individuals, but we have a team that plays together and does their job every Friday night.”
The one job the Raiders have done during this playoff run better than any other task is being able to rally late in games. Northwest edged Peabody and Marksville by a combined three points in the first two rounds.
In last week’s game against Marksville, Northwest trailed by one with 28 seconds left. Edwards and his staff decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion.
“We have only given up seven points in the second half in the playoffs,” Edwards said. “We have just been the better team in the second half for most of the year. That is a tribute to our kids.
“I think the confidence we have from winning our two games late will help us,” Edwards said. “We just want to hang around and be close at the end so we can have a chance to win the game.”
Edwards is looking forward to having his team hang around and win more games over the next several years. He grew up in the area, played football at Northwest and coached for seven years at Plaisance Elementary, which serves as a feeder school for Northwest.
“(A) coaches carousel has been going on here for a while,” the 36-year-old Edwards said. “The kids kind of feel that coaches just come in and leave for another job or place. The difference is that I am from here. They see that I am building a house a few blocks from the school. They know that I am not going anywhere.”