If the Division I playoffs started this weekend, St. Augustine and Holy Cross would be squaring off in a first-round matchup, but you don’t have to remind either team of this fact.
“I’ve heard something about that,” St. Aug coach Al Jones joked.
“We’re aware of that, for sure,” Holy Cross coach Eric Rebaudo said.
But, when the Tigers and Purple Knights face off at Tad Gormley Stadium on Thursday, it will be much more than just a potential first-round playoffs preview. Both teams come into Thursday riding three-game losing streaks and are desperately looking for a win to build some momentum heading into the postseason.
“We understand that we can potentially see any team in our league again down the road, but this is definitely an important one for us,” said Rebaudo. “They have a really dangerous team, and they give a lot of people in our league fits.
“We just have to get ourselves back on the right track so we can start building towards the playoffs.”
Though the Tigers (4-4, 2-3 in 9-5A) are coming into Thursday losing three games in a row, they may have faced one of the toughest three-game stretches of any team in the New Orleans area this season.
Holy Cross’ past three losses came at the hands of Rummel, Brother Martin and John Curtis — the top three teams in the Catholic League standings and all members of the New Orleans Advocate’s Large Schools Super 10.
If the Tigers are going to turn things around, they will need their defense to pick things up and play at the level they did earlier in. They’ve given up 35 points per game over the past three after allowing an 18.6 average through the first five games.
“It definitely starts with the defense. We have to play better,” said Kyle Meyers, Holy Cross cornerback and Florida State commitment. “We’ve slipped up a little bit over the past few weeks, but hopefully, I’ll get more opportunities to make plays against a team that likes to spread it out like St. Aug.”
That spread offense for the Purple Knights (2-6, 2-2) begins and ends with the play of quarterback Justice McCoy.
The junior has completed 140 of his 249 passes for 1,694 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, but five of his eight interceptions has come in the past three games, with three of them returned for touchdowns.
McCoy said that he’s focused on not letting the mistakes get to him and continuing to play at the level that has made him one of the biggest surprises in District 9-5A this season.
“My coaches and teammates have helped a lot telling me to stay confident after I felt like I let them down in those games,” McCoy said. “But we believe our offense can score on anybody and I just have to go out there and help my guys make plays.”
The Purple Knights have found ways to remain competitive nearly every week despite their 2-6 record, with five of the team’s eight games being decided by one score or less. St. Aug only has a record of 1-4 in those one-score games, though, and Jones said playing more consistently is the key to coming away with wins in some of those close games.
“We’re only a 2-6 team, but we feel like we can be 6-2 with how close things have been,” the first-year coach said. “In all of these games, we’re only one tackle or one block away from coming away with wins.
“We just have to stay focused and do all the little things that separate the good teams from the bad teams.”