There are few secrets when it comes to the Catholic League, particularly as it pertains to Holy Cross and Shaw.
Both teams are gearing up for their District 9-5A openers at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hoss Memtsas Stadium, and both have a keen sense of what to expect when they take the field.
Shaw prefers to lean on running back Trey Ragas, who this season has piled up 532 yards rushing and nine total touchdowns to bring his team to 2-1 after the nondistrict slate. Likewise, Holy Cross does the same with its workhorse, Tre Turner, an Arizona State football and baseball commitment who rushed for 119 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his season debut last week to bring his team to the same mark.
When familiarity is apparent, games largely come down to execution.
“We all know each other as coaches,” said Eric Rebaudo, who’s in his second season at the helm of Holy Cross. “We’ve worked on each other’s staffs or worked enough against each other. We just have to be sound. They know what we’re doing and we know what they’re doing, so the team that blocks better and tackles better is going to win.”
“Holy Cross is a really good team with the same record as us, so going into the game it’s going to be who executes better Saturday night,” Shaw coach Scott Bairnsfather said. “Both of us are looking to get some momentum going into the rest of district.”
Last year’s meeting between Shaw and Holy Cross remains a constant presence in the back of the minds of players on both sides, especially as the rematch nears.
The Eagles snapped a nine-game losing skid against Catholic League teams with a 27-21 victory over Holy Cross to give the program its first district win since rejoining District 9-5A before the 2013 season.
Ragas barreled his way for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the game, and no, members of the Tigers defense have not forgotten.
“We’ve been practicing tackling, getting all 11 people to the ball, wrapping up and executing,” said Holy Cross senior defensive back Kyle Meyers, a Florida State commit.
“(Last year’s game) is motivation for us. We gave up a lot of yards, but this year we’re not going to give up as much. We’re a better team than last year. We’re an older group and we’re ready to come out and execute.”
“Losing to them a year ago the way we did, we’re trying to challenge our guys constantly,” Rebaudo said. “Ragas is a special back, a Leonard Fournette-type back. We need to tackle him and be sound, not dive at his feet. We need to wrap up and get as many guys to the ball as possible.”
Ragas has not forgotten either and insisted last year’s victory against Holy Cross lifted the spirit of him and his teammates as this year’s district slate approaches.
However, Ragas understands the defense will be keying in on him, but that’s been the case in each of the first three games of the season.
“This first (district) game shows you how you’ll be as a team,” said Ragas, a senior. “(A win) gives us more confidence and lets us know as we keep going we can compete with the other Catholic League teams.”
As Shaw prepares a game plan around Ragas, Holy Cross will likely do the same now that its top offensive weapon is back in the fold.
Turner returned from a preseason shoulder injury last week and gashed the Chalmette defense for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-20 win.
While Turner will be the focal point of the Eagles’ defensive game plan, they must also plan to see not one, but two Holy Cross quarterbacks.
Freshman Chandler Fields will start his fourth game, but senior Kyle Schexnayder is expected to play as he returns to action following a foot injury.
“They both bring different looks,” Turner said. “Chandler is more of a pocket passer and is good with the ball in his hand. Schex is good with the run game and can do both run and pass. Both have different styles, but both are good for our offense.”
Rebaudo considers having both quarterbacks in the mix provides an edge for his Tigers. Either way, Bairnsfather knows his defense will have its hands full.
“The young kid (Fields) is playing really well right now, so it’s not like you catch a break one or another,” Bairnsfather said. “Both kids are really good, and it’s a good problem for Holy Cross to have. Their running back is one of the fastest kids in the league, so they’ve got a good deal going on offense.”
Saturday night’s meeting marks the first of what’s now a six-game district schedule because of the addition of John Curtis in the Catholic League.
Last year, both Shaw and Holy Cross went 1-4 in league play, but players remain confident in their teams’ abilities to improve this go-round. That starts with getting off on the right foot in their openers this weekend.
“This is a must-win game for us,” Meyers said. “That’s how we’re taking it. We don’t want to lose. Starting 1-0 in the Catholic League is huge, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
“Going 1-0 is always big,” added Shaw senior quarterback Matt Keller. “Holy Cross is a good team, so winning to start off district will give us a lot of confidence.”