Hank Tierney has been gone from the west bank of Jefferson Parish as a football coach since 2006.
Tierney, the former Shaw and West Jefferson coach, returns Friday night as Ponchatoula’s coach, his team going against Ehret, which has steamrolled its past six opponents.
“We told our kids to get ready; it’s going to be a very physical game,” Tierney said. “(Ehret coach) Corey (Lambert) has them playing like the old Ehret teams again when the program was very, very good.”
If Ehret wins Friday at Hoss Memtsas Stadium, it would reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2007. It could bring a rematch against Landry-Walker, which beat the Patriots 21-15 in a District 8-5A game on Oct. 9. Landry-Walker plays Mandeville, which beat Ponchatoula 31-27 in a District 6-6A game on Oct. 1. Wins by Ponchatoula and Mandeville also would bring a rematch.
Ehret (11-2) rolled through its final four district games by an average score of 43.5 to 7. The Patriots, seeded ninth, then won their two Class 5A state playoff games 39-7 against East Ascension and 25-2 last week at Live Oak. The Patriots have not allowed more than one touchdown in a game since the loss at Landry-Walker.
Ehret, with nine defensive players returning and the entire offense back, was expected to do well this season.
Ponchatoula brought back just two starters on offense and six on defense. The Greenies (9-3) went through a four-week period in which they lost three games, starting with the setback to Mandeville. However, they won their final two district games, won their first playoff game against Airline and gained confidence, Tierney said.
That set the stage for last week’s stunning development. Ponchatoula, seeded 17th, went to No. 1 seed West Monroe, which was 11-0 and averaging 40 points a game and came away with a 28-21 victory.
“Ponchatoula did a good job of forcing turnovers and taking advantage of them,” Lambert said.
Like Tierney’s teams during his years at Shaw, when the program was among the best in the state, Ponchatoula’s staple is its option offense. Donovan Campbell, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound guard who is committed to LSU, helps pave the way. Against West Monroe, quarterback Jeff Kraft rushed for 94 yards but also passed for 128 yards and three touchdowns.
“We run a double-slot, which is a pure option offense, but we pass a bunch out of it, also,” Tierney said.
Lambert said the Patriots have had a lot of success against that type of option this season.
“We (scrimmaged) Hahnville in the spring, and we played (8-5A opponent) East Jefferson,” he said. “The double-slot brings everybody inside, and they try to hit you north and south, get you with misdirection stuff.
“You have to play lateral football. You can’t be up the field. Stopping it depends on being steady in your assignments and trusting your teammates.”
Led by Michael Divinity, rated as ESPN’s No. 4 outside linebacker in the country, Ehret’s already stount defense seems to improve each week. Against East Ascension, the Patriots appeared more physical. Lambert said it was the same last week at Live Oak.
Watching on tape, it has gotten Tierney’s attention.
“They’ve got great team speed on defense, and they play with passion,” he said.
The Patriots bring as much of a challenge offensively, he said.
“(Quarterback Dejon) Harris presents a problem not only in that he is running the offense well but tackling him when he runs is a challenge,” Tierney said. “He is big and physical, and they are physical on the offensive line.”
A plus for Ehret has been running back Juwan Leonard, who rushed for 176 yards vs. East Ascension and 152 at Live Oak.
Ponchatoula’s defense, led by defensive lineman Jahaziel Lee, who is committed to Louisiana-Lafayette, has the reputation of being physical, also. However, Tierney said it started to wear down near the end against West Monroe before the Rebels fumbled at their 40, leading to the Greenies’ winning touchdown.