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Acadiana High football coach Matt McCullough stands on the sideline in a game against Teurlings Catholic during the Lafayette Kiwanis Jamboree on Aug. 30, 2019, at Cajun Field.

The first seven weeks of the high school football season have felt different than my previous two years covering prep sports in the Acadiana area, and it was most evident to me when I was devising my weekly Super 10 ranking on Saturday.

Which local teams, I wondered, are legitimate contenders? It seemed late in the season to be asking myself that question. 

Keep in mind, at least one Acadiana-area football team has reached the state championship every year since 1995, and the area has produced at least one state champion in each of the past six years, including three last year.

I’d be surprised if that streak didn’t continue in 2019, but there doesn’t seem to be as much quality depth as there has been in previous years — or at least teams we know for certain have chances to make deep postseason runs.

Certain traditionally strong teams — or teams coming off excellent 2018 seasons — have struggled this year. Some squads are just inconsistent to this point in the season, whether that be because of injuries, inexperience, strength of schedule, et cetera.

Even a few of the better teams in the area have experienced losses we didn’t see coming or have endured injuries to key players that could affect them the rest of the way, like Carencro and Notre Dame.

So I’d like to sift through the upper echelon of local football teams and divide them into three groups: who we know are contenders, who we think are contenders and who we’re uncertain about.

By “contender,” I mean contending for a deep postseason run, not necessarily an appearance in the state final. And by “deep postseason run,” I mean winning at least two playoff games, which will be more challenging for certain teams that play in bigger or more competitive brackets. It’s very possible one or two teams that wasn’t included in one of these groups ends up playing into the third week of November.

Who we know are contenders

The area’s known contenders, in our mind, include Acadiana, Lafayette Christian, Notre Dame and St. Thomas More.

The first three teams are the current No. 1, 2 and 3 teams in this week’s Super 10. The fourth one, STM, is No. 5. You may be wondering why No. 4 Westgate, which beat the Cougars two weeks ago, wouldn’t be included in the “known contender” section, but that has much more to do with the competitiveness of the Class 4A bracket. It’s much harder for me to guarantee that the Tigers, despite being incredibly talented on offense and much-improved on defense, will reach the quarterfinals

But frankly, I’d be shocked if the four aforementioned teams didn’t win at least two playoff games, and I think all of them could play for state championships. The Wreckin’ Rams are the area’s lone unbeaten team and have wins against Carencro, LCA and Ruston. Acadiana could end up with No. 1 seed in the Class 5A playoffs if it goes undefeated.

The Knights just beat the Pioneers 17-14 to snap Notre Dame’s 50-game regular season winning streak. It’s probable each will end up as either Nos. 1, 2 or 3 seed in the Division III playoffs, and I could envision them meeting up again in the state final.

STM snapped its two-game losing streak with a dominant win against rival Teurlings Catholic, and I still believe the Cougars are the favorites to win the Division II title.

Who we think are contenders

The area’s probable contenders include Westgate, Carencro, Teurlings Catholic, Breaux Bridge, Church Point, Opelousas Catholic, Vermilion Catholic, Catholic-New Iberia and Iota.

The first six teams listed round out this week’s Super 10, and the latter three were on the outside looking in.

Let’s start with the nonselect Class 4A teams: Westgate, Carencro and Breaux Bridge. I think all three of these teams are talented enough to reach the quarterfinals, and their résumé backs that up. Westgate has the win against STM, and its two losses are to LCA and Lakeshore. After losing to Acadiana in the season opener, Carencro has won six straight, including victories against Sam Houston and Teurlings. Breaux Bridge beat Catholic-NI and Eunice and gave Destrehan and Teurlings all they wanted.

After an 0-2 start with losses to Notre Dame and Southside, Church Point has rattled off four straight wins, including victories against Kaplan and previously unbeaten Iota. Iota struggled last week against Ville Platte, but the Bulldogs, who reached the 3A semifinals last year, have a solid win against North Vermilion and feature an all-state running back.

Opelousas Catholic and Vermilion Catholic are interesting cases. OC beat VC in Week 2 and were riding high entering a Week 7 tilt against Catholic-Point Coupee. But the Vikings were hampered by turnovers and penalties in a 34-point loss that probably knocks them out of district contention. But it’s unlikely the Hornets are that many points better than the Vikings.

The Screamin’ Eagles have won five straight since the loss to OC and have wins against Catholic-NI, Kaplan and Eunice.

Catholic-NI is the wild card of the group. It started the season 0-3 with quality losses to VC, Breaux Bridge and Barbe. The Panthers have won four straight since then, all in district play, and haven’t really been tested. We may not know how good Catholic is until the playoffs, but two-time state finalists deserve the benefit of the doubt based on pedigree.

Who we’re uncertain about

The area’s mystery group includes Crowley, Erath, Kaplan, North Vermilion, Rayne and Eunice — three District 6-3A teams and three District 4-4A teams.

Let’s start with Crowley and Eunice, both of which have respectable 5-2 records. The Gents have won four straight after starting the season 1-2 but don’t necessarily have a standout victory to this point. This week’s matchup against Kaplan will tell us more about Jeptha Wall’s squad.

Eunice, the reigning Class 3A champions, has struggled with consistency in its first year in Class 4A. They’re 1-2 in games against teams in their own classification and will be tested again in a road matchup against undefeated Tioga this week.

The other four teams in this group are combined 14-14. North Vermilion lost to Kaplan but beat Erath and Rayne. Erath has gotten healthier as the season has progressed and, two weeks ago, knocked off the Pirates for the first time since 2007. Kaplan, which has reached the semifinals three years in a row, rebound from a rough four-game losing streak by beating St. Martinville last week. Rayne showed its potential by downing Eunice two weeks ago.

So it’s conceivable any of these six teams could get hot come November and end up in the quarterfinals. But at this point, it’s hard to tell who, if any, could do it.

Email James Bewers at jbewers@theadvocate.com