Rebuilding Easton faces talented McDonogh 35 in key District 9-4A game _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RUSTY COSTANZA -- Warren Easton's Terrance Sylvester eludes the grasp of Jesuit's Jakirai Wiley in a game last month at Tad Gormley Stadium.

Warren Easton’s football team had a magical 2014 season that saw them reach a state title game for the first time in nearly six decades, but it seemed as if it all came crashing down for them only two weeks into this season.

The Eagles overcame an exodus of senior talent that included 10 Division I signees and managed to upset defending Division I state champion Jesuit 26-21 in the 2015 season opener, but that turned around quickly in their next game.

Easton put forward one of its ugliest performances in recent memory and turned the ball over five times in a sloppy and rain-soaked 21-6 loss to Evangel, which was the first-time the Eagles were held to singe digits since 2012.

“That was the first time we faced an opponent that did those kind of things to us defensively,” Easton coach Tony Hull said. “It allowed us to watch film and make some adjustments to what we do, which has helped us a lot up to this point.”

After that loss, Easton found its way and won its next four games, while piling up 56.5 points per game along the way.

But this week, Easton (5-1, 2-0 in District 9-4A) faces its toughest test yet when they square off with undefeated McDonogh 35 (6-0, 3-0), which leads District 9-4A and is attempting to put together a magical season of their own.

The game, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at Pan American Stadium, will not only have major district implications, but may also play a big part in seeding for the two squads in the 4A playoffs.

McDonogh 35 is the second-ranked team in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Class 4A poll behind defending state champion Neville. Warren Easton is No. 8.

“Games like this are building blocks. You can learn a lot about your team in games like this,” Easton quarterback Tyriek Starks said. “It’s big, but we still want to approach it the same way we would any other game.”

While Easton has made its meteoric rise in District 9-4A largely due to its record-setting offense, the Roneagles have made their way to the top of the standings with a bruising defense that is littered with future Division I talent.

McDonogh 35 has held opponents to 12.3 points per game this season with a dominant defensive line that includes Sci Martin, who leads the New Orleans-area with 161/2 sacks, and Mastephon Taylor, who has seven sacks. The Roneagles defensive line also gets plenty of help from a hard-hitting safety duo that includes Brad Stewart and LSU commitment Clifford Chattman.

“I would put our defense up against anybody in the state,” McDonogh 35 coach Wayne Reese said. “We’ve got a ton of talent, and all those guys have been together since the eighth- or ninth-grade. They’ve carried us this whole season.”

While these two teams don’t possess many similarities when it comes to playing style, one of the main aspects of last year’s Easton team that McDonogh 35 has tried to adopt is the way Easton’s seniors — including Gatorade Player of the Year Deshawn Capers-Smith and fellow all-stater Tyron Johnson — took on major leadership roles and helped carry the team in their big games.

“That leadership and that bond they had last year was really big for them,” McDonogh 35 senior quarterback Sidney Wilson said. “I think we have the same thing this year, and we expect to win on Saturday.”

One major concern for Easton is the health of explosive wide receiver Clyde Chriss, who was forced to miss last week’s win over Riverdale with a knee injury.

Hull said that Chriss, who had 33 catches for 821 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014, was limited in practice this week and is considered “day-to-day” going into the game.