When Franklinton lines up across the line from Neville in a Class 4A semifinal football playoff game Friday night, the Demons may see something that looks familiar.
Namely, that could be a mirror image of some of the stout Franklinton teams that have been a factor in deciding eventual state champions for many years.
Franklinton coach Shane Smith said Neville (11-1) appears to resemble his well-rounded squad that won a state title in 2010. He likened the two squads’ ability to play tough defense, as well as attack on offense at a moment’s notice.
That sort of composure also was displayed by the one opponent that Franklinton (12-1) did not beat this season — Brother Martin in Week 3.
But what Smith likes about the Neville matchup is the continued emergence of his team.
“We’ve been able to run the ball behind our big offensive line this year, but we’re still continuing to improve. When we need to pass, we’ve been efficient, and it’s been there for us. But I think (our) football team still has its best football in front of it.”
Third-ranked Franklinton will travel to second-ranked Neville in a 7 p.m. game at Bill Ruple Stadium in Monroe. The winner will advance to the Class 4A championship game scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Dec. 13 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Though Franklinton and Neville excelled throughout the season, their paths to the semifinals were different. Neville traveled to New Orleans and totaled seven sacks in a 34-7 thumping of 10th-ranked Karr.
The Demons, meanwhile, scored on Renaz Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1:48 remaining in the game to edge sixth-ranked Landry-Walker in another quarterfinal 21-15.
Keeping things especially close between Franklinton and Landry-Walker were four turnovers by the Demons.
“We were pleased to get out of that with a win,” Smith said.
“We have emphasized taking care of the ball in practice all this week. We have to clean it up. You can’t turn the ball over like that in the semifinals and win.”
Both teams have looked solid on offense. Michael Wilson is Franklinton’s quarterback and Renaz Wilson, who scored twice against Landry-Walker, is the leading rusher. Chandler Davis is the Demons’ leading receiver. All three are juniors.
They operate behind a mammoth offensive line, which boasts four starters weighing over 300 pounds.
“It’s the strongest offensive line we’ve had here, for sure,” Smith said.
The Franklinton defense is equally talented, with strengths in the secondary and at linebacker. Smith said he thinks the play of his defensive line could be a determining factor in slowing down Neville, which is averaging more than 40 points per game. The Tigers’ only loss this year came to Longview (Texas).
J.T. Jackson leads the Neville offense with 21 passing touchdowns and only three interceptions. He has completed 72-of-131 passes for 1,570 yards. The Tigers have three runners with more than 600 yards. The trio has totaled 28 touchdowns. Donald Louis and Zack Walker pace the Neville defense with seven sacks each.
Knocking off Neville, which has been in three of the past five Class 4A title games, will be a tough task, Smith admitted. But he said he thinks the Demons are up to the challenge.
“The question back in 2010 was could we improve,” Smith said. “We still continue to see improvement (this year.)”