After pivotal games last week in District 8-5A, the Ehret Patriots and West Jefferson Buccaneers find themselves in another key matchup.
Ehret (4-2, 2-1) and West Jefferson (3-3, 2-1) meet Friday at Hoss Memtsas Stadium after both lost last week, resulting in a three-way logjam atop the district being broken up.
“The district has become much more competitive, which is a good thing,” said Patriots coach Corey Lambert, whose team had won 12 consecutive 8-5A games over three seasons before falling to Landry-Walker 21-15 at Behrman Stadium. “Things have gotten interesting with us losing, with Chalmette (3-0) the only undefeated team and West Jeff and us and Landry-Walker and Higgins tied for second place (at 2-1).”
West Jefferson (3-3) lost 56-42 at Chalmette last week in an unexpected shootout. Now, the loser of Friday’s game at Memtsas likely will be out of contention for the district title. Ehret (4-2) won district the past two years. John Ehret will play Chalmette next week.
“These next four games are playoff games for us,” Lambert said.
West Jeff first-year coach Cyril Crutchfield echoed those sentiments. His concern is that the Buccaneers simply could not stop Chalmette running back Masen Mitchell and wingback Kerry Johnson. Ehret, even with quarterback Caron Baham out for the season, remains a talented running team with backs Juwan Leonard (529 yards) and Byron James (475) and quarterback Dejon Harris.
“They have four running backs, two quarterbacks, some athletic receivers,” Crutchfield said. “They attack the perimeter with the run, attack inside with the run, (and) they even throw the ball downfield.
“We haven’t been playing good defense all year. We have to read our keys and be fundamentally sound.”
As wary as Crutchfield is of Ehret’s big-play potential, the Buccaneers will face their toughest challenge to date against the Patriots’ defense. It is a very quick unit sprinkled with NCAA Division I prospects in outside linebacker Michael Divinity, ends Robert Green and Kerry Starks, nose tackle Dwayne Fisher and linebackers Harris and Anthony Hamilton.
“Usually on a high school team, one of the (defensive) areas is not as strong as the other,” Crutchfield said. “They are as solid on the front end as they are on the back end, and those linebackers are probably better than the other two groups.
“(Ehret) can bring a lot of pressure without blitzing, which allows them to do a lot of things.”
That may be necessary against West Jeff running back David Carter, who ripped through Chalmette for 272 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries. He wore down the Owls in the second half with 214 yards and three touchdowns, including a 79-yard run, on 17 carries.
“Our front seven — which I’ll put against anybody’s — will be the key,” Lambert said. “We’ll have to make sure we stop the run, and we need to be aware of play-action passes. But (Carter) has been running the rock really well.”
West Jefferson has averaged 46.3 points in district play this season, although two of the opponents were Bonnabel (0-6, 0-3) and Cox (3-3, 1-2). Even with as many points as the Buccaneers scored against Chalmette, they were not as balanced as in previous games. West Jefferson passed for 98 yards. Against a lot of pressure, Coley Ransaw was 3-of-8 for 29 yards in the second half (he was 8-of-16 overall).
“We go into every game wanting to throw the ball around,” Crutchfield said. “We got hot in the running game, and we just kind of stuck with it. But we’re going against a formidable defense, and they suffocate the run and bring a lot of pressure, as well. So, we’ll have to stay balanced and make the throws we need to make.”
There’s a lot at stake, but Lambert said this was a big game game when the schedule came out. Ehret was built to take much of the huge enrollment of West Jefferson.
“Ehret was built in 1979 and won state in ’82,” Lambert said. “This has always been a big rivalry game.”