Ryan Manale has lifted De La Salle to new heights in his four years as the Cavaliers football coach.
De La Salle has made the playoffs four years in a row after a 12-year drought from 1998 to 2010. Last fall, the Cavaliers notched their first playoff victory in 45 years. This season, they raced off to a 9-0 start, the best in the uptown school’s history.
In uncharted territory, No. 3 De La Salle (9-1) will host No. 6 Teurlings Catholic (8-3) in a Division II quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Pan American Stadium. The Cavaliers are looking to take another step forward in a promising season that has built up to this game.
“We’re definitely getting close as a program,” Manale said. “Are we there yet? We’ll find out Friday night. But I know this: We’re getting closer.”
De La Salle lost in the first round of the playoffs from 2011-13 before overcoming those demons a year ago in a rout of Vanderbilt Catholic. That sense of accomplishment turned bittersweet after a 24-0 loss to St. Charles in the Division II quarterfinals.
This year, De La Salle finds itself in the position of hosting its quarterfinals showdown with Teurlings Catholic, which will have to make the 130-plus-mile trek from Lafayette to New Orleans to face a Cavaliers team champing at the bit to continue on their historic path.
“It was a bad feeling, and I didn’t like that,” senior cornerback Semaj Lewis said of the past playoff exits. “We needed to improve, and that’s what we did. We plan to turn things around this year. That’s what we’ve been doing all season. This year feels totally different. We expect a lot and have high goals for ourselves, and we don’t settle for less.”
De La Salle has the tough draw of Teurlings, a Class 4A program that advanced to the Division I quarterfinals in 2014 before losing 28-20 to Rummel.
The Rebels continued their torrid pace in a 49-14 defeat of St. Michael last week. Their offense has averaged 35.4 points per game and 42.7 points in their past six games, which has coincided with a 5-1 record.
The Cavaliers are looking to flex their defensive muscle against Teurlings and Arkansas quarterback commitment Cole Kelley. De La Salle has held opponents to 7.8 points per game and is eager to prove itself against this high-flying Teurlings offense.
“Last week was disappointing, but we’re going to come out with a lot of intensity,” senior safety Da’Vante LeBranch said. “They have a good quarterback, but we’ll close some of his windows and put pressure on him and force him to throw off his back leg. Our offense is good at putting points on the board, but our defense has an attitude. That starts with the coaches and comes down to the players.”