Finding tangible connections within the opening round of the playoffs can be a challenge.
Unless, of course, you’re like top-seeded Livonia High and No. 1 Plaquemine, No. 3 Zachary and several other Baton Rouge nonselect teams bound for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s football playoffs.
“I guess you could say we have the best of both worlds,” Livonia coach Guy Mistretta said. “This is new for our players, but I’m familiar with Baker, and some of our coaches know Baker and know coach (Richard) Oliver. Personally, I like the fact that we’re going to be playing somebody from a little closer to home. Hopefully that makes it a easier for people to get to the game and make for a better atmosphere.”
A total of 19 nonselect schools from the Baton Rouge area made the playoffs.
When the LHSAA released its playoff pairings Sunday morning, Livonia (9-0), the No. 1 seed in Class 3A, confirmed what both schools had figured out. The Wildcats would host No. 32 Baker (4-6).
Plaquemine (9-1) in Class 4A was the area’s other nonselect No. 1 seed and hosts No. 32 McDonogh 35 (2-7). The Green Devils also have a tenuous connection: A year ago, Plaquemine’s season ended with a loss to another New Orleans team, Landry-Walker.
Third-seeded Zachary (9-1) of 5A faces a scenario similar to the one it faced to open the season. ZHS lost to a Shreveport team, C.E. Byrd, in Week 1. Byrd went on to become the No. 1 5A seed. Zachary opens its playoffs with another Shreveport area team: No. 30 Airline (4-6).
“I’ve watched about six or seven hours of film, and I’d say Airline doesn’t look much like a No. 30 seed,” ZHS coach David Brewerton said. “They do some things very well. We’ve been very good at being prepared and meeting challenges. I don’t expect this week to be different.”
Nothing cements a playoff connection quite like a rematch, and there are two involving local teams. In Class 5A, No. 14 Woodlawn (6-4) hosts No. 19 Denham Springs (6-4). In 2A, fifth-seeded Northeast (7-2) hosts No. 28 Capitol (2-8).
Woodlawn shut out Denham Springs 28-0 in a season opener. Northeast beat Capitol 28-13 in a District 6-2A game in Week 7. DSHS is seeking its first playoff win since 1989.
“We’re looking forward to this,” DSHS coach Dru Nettles said. “Coach (Brett) Beard has done a great job at Woodlawn and, the first time, they were the more experienced team and took it to us. Now we’re getting some different things in place. We think we’re a better team.”
Northeast coach David Masterson sees both sides of the quandary his team faces.
“You know the other team, but it’s hard to beat any team twice in a season at any level,” Masterson said. “Look at LSU and Alabama in 2011. There’s an excitement that goes with not knowing that other team you play, and you don’t have that. With that said, this is the third season — the playoffs. We lost Friday (19-14 to Redemptorist). We’ve got to put that behind and prepare. Everybody is 0-0 now.”
There are more 5A ties. East Ascension (5-5), seeded 16th, hosts Sulphur (6-4), the school that EAHS coach Paul Bourgeois led to a 5A runner-up finish in 2006. The team Sulphur lost to that year, Acadiana (6-4), is seeded 15th and hosts No. 18 St. Amant (6-4). Acadiana, also the defending 5A champion, has scrimmaged St. Amant for 30 years.