The Fontainebleau High School football team figured it had a good chance to start its season 3-0, and the Bulldogs did it by outscoring their first three nondistrict opponents 105-30.
But the real test also figures to begin here — in Week 4, in District 6-5A, and against the Mandeville Skippers, at that.
Fontainebleau will travel across town to face the Skippers at Sidney Theriot Stadium on Friday. And though it’s a game the Bulldogs don’t want to particularly circle on their schedule, it’s one they probably have afforded special attention.
After all, it’s been a decade since Fontainebleau defeated Mandeville. And while the Bulldogs have posted some respectable seasons during that time, the Skippers have reached the Class 5A state semifinals in three of the past five years. Throw in the fact that many of the players from both teams have known one another since their youth ball days at Pelican Park, and the Fontainebleau/Mandeville matchup carries quite a bit of weight.
“It’s district, so every game is a big game now,” said Fontainebleau second-year coach Chris Blocker, who guided the Bulldogs to the postseason in 2015. “But it’s big for us to open against Mandeville. This is definitely a measuring stick for us…(Three semifinals in five years,) I think you have to look at that. We want to be with teams that have success like that. Using those guys as a model is not a bad thing. It’s our job maybe to mimic a few of the things teams like that do to sustain a level of success.”
Mandeville was hit relatively hard by graduation, but is off to a 2-1 start with quality wins over Holy Cross and University High (Baton Rouge). Its only loss ccane 26-17 to perennial power Barbe. Quarterback Darren Steele is in his first season as starter, but has been a difference-maker both running and throwing the football.
Steele will be a test for the Fontainebleau defense, which Blocker described as young and inexperienced before the season started. He said the unit has jelled nicely, however, and indications are the Bulldogs will have to contain Steele if they are to defeat the Skippers.
“We have to stay disciplined,” junior free safety Kevon Washington said. “He loves to scramble, so we have to keep him in check.”
Easier said than done, of course, but Fontainebleau has offensive weapons of its own. Running back Brandon Akkawi is well on his way to topping the 1,200 rushing yards he totaled last year. He has 543 yards through three games in 2016, and is the undisputed workhorse for the team.
A senior, Akkawi credited the offensive line for its role in his early production this year — guards Alex Alexander and Joey Gioia, tackles Justin Mastio and Ryan Traina, and center Lane Hernandez.
“We’ve all had a big progression over the spring,” Akkawi said. “It goes back to effort. The person with the best effort is going to win up front. That’s what our line’s been doing.”
While Fontainebleau aims for offensive balance, Blocker said it’s difficult not to rely on his senior running back.
“He’s quick and has really good balance,” Blocker said. “His vision isn’t bad and he’s getting better with it as we go. Having him takes the pressure off of having our quarterback make all the plays.”
Senior quarterback Justin Stolberg agreed, but Blocker said Stolberg brings intelligence, leadership and a strong arm to the position. He figures to need all three against Mandeville’s 3-3 stack defense, which presents multiple looks and brings pressure from various points on the field.
“We’ve played against that 3-3 stack the past couple weeks,” Stolberg said. “Lakeshore’s coach was at Mandeville and they use it, and East Jeff showed us a little bit of it too. I think as long as we execute up front, any defense we face, there should be some space there (for us to move the ball.)”
If they find that space against Mandeville remains to be seen, but Fontainebleau’s troops like their chances.
“The way we look at it is you have to be 1-0 each week,” Stolberg said. “It’s Friday night, and it’s a game, so it’s important. ... (But) it would be a confidence boost (to win.) It would be a statement that announces we’re here, and that you can’t overlook us anymore.”