CROWLEY — To prevent players from being overwhelmed by a long season, Notre Dame-Crowley coach Lewis Cook has his squad keep one number in mind.
It is not a specific play call or a statistic. It is the number 48.
“We tell the kids from Day 1, you want to have the big picture in mind,” Cook said. “One thing we emphasize is: If we are going to make it, we have to focus on these 48 minutes. If we get hung up with everything else, we diminish our chances.”
The next 48 for the Pioneers (11-1) will include a trip to Jackson, where they will face East Feliciana (8-3) in a Class 3A semifinal Friday night.
It is familiar territory for a program that has reached the semifinals 11 times in the past 13 years. The path to the semis this season included wins over Patterson, defending Class 3A champion St. Charles Catholic and district rival Iowa.
“You would think seeded No. 2 that you would have a game where you don’t have to extend yourself,” Cook said. “Patterson is no break, and then it’s on to the defending state champs.”
Cook said that path has benefited a team led by sophomore quarterback Brad Stoma. Tailback Luke Broussard has fueled the running game by contributing 1,458 yards and 14 touchdowns. Fullback Austin Thibodeaux has been another vital source of production after missing a few weeks with a knee sprain.
“We are a different offense with Austin in there,” Cook said. “When we go to a one-back offense, we don’t lose anything when he is the one back. He might break a zone (run) play for 30 yards. He had three receptions against St. Charles. If you load up to stop the run, he will be there to make the catch.”
The Notre Dame defense is coming off a shutout of Iowa. Defensive back Gavin Bourgeois grabbed a pair of interceptions in that win and returned one for a score. He leads the Pioneers with seven interceptions.
Punter Dustin Reiners has frequently put Bourgeois and his teammates in a favorable position by averaging 41.5 yards on 35 punts.
“It was evident how much progress we made (defensively) from Week 7,” Cook said. “We went from allowing several big plays to Iowa in Week 7 to giving up three first downs. Anytime you can do that in the playoffs, it is gratifying. But the kids know it is one more step. I told the kids, ‘a shutout and a dollar bill will get you a cold drink in the machine.’ It’s about: Can we do it again?”
In East Feliciana, Cook sees some common characteristics that the Tigers share with the Pioneers’ first-round opponent, Patterson.
“Patterson has a spread offense with outstanding athletes, which is similar to East Feliciana,” Cook said. “We also had a bus ride to St. Charles (Catholic in LaPlace), which is only about a 25-mile difference.”
With that next 48 waiting, a trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Class 3A final is a win away.
“For us as coaches, we have been there several times,” Cook said.
“We want to get it for the players and a couple of coaches that haven’t had that opportunity. I want it more for them than myself.”