In District 5-3A, questions abound entering the 2016 season.
Will anyone be able to slow Eunice? What does the transition look like at Church Point? What kind of growth will Port Barre, Ville Platte and Pine Prairie experience?
Most importantly: After a historic 2015 in which Northwest won double-digit games and advanced to the Class 3A nonselect state quarterfinals, what does coach Chris Edwards have in store for an encore?
Edwards' toughest task no doubt will be replacing all-state running back Chris Lee. But thanks to an experienced offensive line that returns three starters, the running game figures to not miss a beat. Quarterback Terrell Guillory is also back for his senior campaign.
On defense, the strength will be in the secondary. The Raiders return three starters — including Abraham Gordwin, who led the team with six interceptions a year ago.
"We are a very close-knit group," Edwards said.
That unity, plus a wealth of experience on both sides of the ball, has the Raiders in prime position to challenge for the district title. But will they be able to take down defending champion Eunice?
The Bobcats scorched the competition in 2015 on their way to nine regular-season wins and an undefeated district run. Thanks to a potent offense and stingy defense, Eunice outscored district foes 211-37.
But a majority of that firepower is gone. In addition to replacing three-year starting quarterback Alex Richard and linebacker Ajyh Johnson, the Bobcats must find a way to overcome the loss of 32 touchdowns and more than 330 tackles.
Coach Paul Trosclair knows there is only one way to overcome those holes.
"We're showing up every day and trying to get better," he said.
The strength of the offense will be up front, where tackles Shelton Langley and Damien Comeaux return, along with guard Jonas Granger. The three will play a pivotal role in getting the Bobcats' Wing-T attack moving.
On defense, the Bobcats, like Northwest, will look for the secondary to carry the load. Eunice is led by DaShawn Vigers, who paced the team with four interceptions. He's joined in the backfield by fellow returning starters Brandon Ndubueze and Joshua Dupre. Up front, Eunice is replacing three starters.
Church Point is in transition. After his team finished 8-4 last season, coach J.C. Arceneaux must replace five starters on offense and seven on defense. Logan Marks takes over at quarterback but will have returners Trey Babineaux and Deshawn Wheeler to lean on in the backfield.
Port Barre and Ville Platte will look to carry over some momentum. The Red Devils and Bulldogs each got a taste of playoff action last year and are hoping to build on that. Pine Prairie hopes to break into the win column in district play after the Panthers were shut out a year ago.
All three of those teams will feature new quarterbacks.
Does Northwest have what it takes to knock off defending district champ Eunice? Both teams won double-digit ballgames a year ago, and the two figure to be fighting for the district crown.
Best of the best
Defensive players often get overlooked by flashier offensive players, but make no mistake: Opponents know exactly who Ville Platte linebacker Tralon Thomas is. As a junior, Thomas recorded an impressive 127 tackles, including 11 for loss.
Games you’ve got to see
Eunice at Northwest (Oct 14)
Church Point at Eunice (Oct 21)
Northwest at Church Point (Oct 27)
District 5-3A appears to be a two-team race between defending champ Eunice and runner-up Northwest. The Raiders host the Bobcats in what should be the game of the year in 5-3A. Look for Northwest to take advantage of home field and beat Eunice in a tight game on their way to the district championship.
Coach: Paul Trosclair
2015: 10-2, 5-0
Last playoff appearance: 2015 (lost to St. James in the Class 3A nonselect second round)
Looking back: A 9-1 regular season came to an end with an earlier-than-expected playoff exit.
Moving forward: The Dashawn Vigers Show will be must-see. The senior leads Eunice on offense at wide receiver and on defense he came away with four interceptions as a defensive back in 2015.
Ask The Advocate: Nine regular-season wins may be hard to repeat, but when November rolls around, you can expect the Bobcats to be among the district’s top teams.
Projected starters on offense (Wing-T)
TE Tyler Darbonne (6-2, 210, So.), WR Dashwan Vigers (6-3, 175, Sr.), *OT Shelton Langley (6-0, 215, Sr.), OG Kelin Carriere (5-10, 205, Jr.), C Andrew Rougeau (6-0, 250, Sr.), *OG Jonas Granger (5-9, 200, Sr.), *OT Damien Comeaux (5-11, 225, Sr.), QB Jaden Brasseaux (5-9, 170, Jr.), *RB Georrein Dupre (5-9, 170, Sr.), RB Avery Lee (5-8, 170, So.), RB Ian George (5-7, 150, Jr.)
Projected starters on defense (3-4)
DE Brody Gaspard (6-0, 245, Jr.), DE Tayte Langley (6-0, 190, So.), DT Christian Goldman (5-11, 280, Jr.), LB Leon Mitchell (6-0, 225, Jr.), LB Trevin Ceaser (5-9, 175, Jr.), *LB Cade Richard (5-9, 170, Sr.), *LB David Middlebrooks (5-9, 165, Sr.), *DB Dashawan Vigers (6-3, 175, Sr.), *DB Brandon Nubuzyze (6-1, 170, Sr.), DB Jordan Ledet (6-1, 170, So.), DB Joshua Dupre (5-9, 160, So.)
Sept. 2 at Opelousas
Sept. 9 Jennings
Sept. 16 St. Martinville
Sept. 23 at Crowley
Sept. 30 at Rayne
Oct. 7 Ville Platte#
Oct. 14 at Northwest#
Oct. 21 Church Point#
Oct. 28 at Port Barre#
Nov. 4 Pine Prairie#
Pine Prairie Panthers
Coach: Yves Prince
2015: 3-7, 0-5
Looking back: The Panthers put together a three-game winning streak in the first half of the season but went winless in district play and missed the playoffs.
Moving forward: New faces at key positions will be inserted into the starting lineup for Prince in 2016. Jordan Ardoin figures to get a look at QB.
Ask The Advocate: Is this the year Pine Prairie finds a way to win a district game? Its best opportunity figures to come when it hosts Ville Platte in Week 9.
Sept. 2 at Bunkie
Sept. 9 Beau Chene
Sept. 16 at Pearl River
Sept. 23 at Mamou
Sept. 30 Tara
Oct. 7 Northwest#
Oct. 14 at Church Point#
Oct. 21 Port Barre#
Oct. 27 Ville Platte#
Nov. 4 at Eunice#
Coach: Chris Edwards
2015: 10-3, 4-1
Last playoff appearance: 2015 (lost to St. James in the Class 3A quarterfinals)
Looking back: Led by tailback and 5-3A MVP Chris Lee’s 2166 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns, the Raiders won double-digit games for the first time in more than a decade.
Moving forward: Replacing Lee will be no small task, but senior Matthew Rideau figures to be up for the challenge. On defense, the Raiders return leading tackler Gaige Wills.The senior linebacker had 72 stops in 2015.
Ask The Advocate: Look for the Raiders to take another step forward, don’t be surprised if the Raiders are district champs when the season ends.
Projected starters on offense (spread)
OT Kobe Vicknair (6-0, 225, Jr.), *G Troydale Gallow (5-9, 240, Jr.), *C Kyron Richard (5-8, 250, Jr.), G Joseph Richard (5-8, 245, Jr.), *OT Mark Lachapelle (5-11, 255, Sr.), WR August Pitre (6-3, 170, Jr.), *WR Dylan Guillory (5-8, 165, Jr.), WR Caleb Allen (6-3, 190, Sr.), TE Keyshawn Jackson (6-3, 240, Jr.), *RB Matthew Rideau (6-1, 235, Sr.), *QB Terrell Guillory (5-10, 170, Sr.)
Projected starts on defense (4-3)
DE Chad Sam (5-11, 190, So.), *DT Demarcus Stevens (5-11, 190, Sr.), *DE Anthony White (6-1, 225, Sr.), DT Keyshawn Jackson (6-3, 240, Jr.), LB Lionel Derousseau (6-0, 190, Jr.), LB Brynth Broussard (5-11, 215, Jr.), *LB Gaige Willis (5-10, 195, Sr.), *DB Angelo Daniels (5-9, 165, Sr.), *DB Tavian Gant (5-11, 170, Sr.), DB Kameryon Jones (5-7, 145, Jr.), *DB Abraham Gordwin (6-0, 175, Sr.)
Sept. 2 St. Edmund
Sept. 8 West St. Mary
Sept. 16 at North Vermilion
Sept. 23 Vinton
Sept. 30 at False River
Oct. 7 at Pine Prairie#
Oct. 14 Eunice#
Oct. 21 at Ville Platte#
Oct. 27 at Church Point#
Nov. 4 Port Barre#
Port Barre Red Devils
Coach: Mac Mistric
2015: 5-6, 1-4
Last playoff appearance: 2015 (lost to Amite in Class 3A first round)
Looking back: The Red Devils struggled in District 5-3A play. Port Barre’s lone win came against Pine Prairie in Week 8.
Moving forward: Seniors Matt Leger and Alex Olivier will lead the way on defense. That group will have to carry the load early for the Red Devils as its young offense gains experience.
Ask The Advocate: The Red Devils will look to open up the offense under new quarterback Brock Rozas. Combine that with an experienced defense, and Port Barre should find itself back in the playoffs.
Projected starters on offense (multiple)
TE Devin Casse (5-11, 210, Sr.), *WR Alex Olivier (5-10, 175, Sr.), WR Easton Shelvin (6-1, 165, Sr.), *LT Jayce Raymer (6-3, 310, Sr.), *LG Frankie Levier (6-2, 290, Sr.), C Bryce Meche (5-9, 230, Jr.), *RG Luke Ragas (6-1, 275, Sr.), *SR Christian Beaugh (6-1, 250, Jr.), QB Brock Rozas (6-0, 180, Sr.), *RB Terrence Lemell (5-8, 170, Jr.), *RB Matt Leger (5-8, 180, Sr.), RB Ryan Malbrough (6-1, 190, Jr.)
Projected starters on defense (4-4)
*RE Christian Beaugh (6-1, 250 Sr.), *LE Caleb Currier (5-9, 210, Sr.), *DT Casbin Claiborne (6-0, 250, Jr.), DT Bryce Sanders (6-2, 220, So.), OLB Deandre Chevis (5-10, 205, Jr.), OLB Ryan Malbrough (6-1, 190, Jr.), *ILB Curtis Chevis (5-8, 230, Sr.), *ILB Matt Leger (5-8, 180, Sr.), *CB Easton Shelvin (6-1, 165, Sr.), CB Kentrell Jackson (5-9, 155, Jr.), *FS Alex Olivier (5-10, 175, Sr.)
Sept. 2 Opelousas Catholic
Sept. 9 Sacred Heart VP
Sept. 16 at Beau Chene
Sept. 23 at St. Edmund
Sept. 30 at Basile
Oct. 7 Church Point#
Oct. 14 at Ville Platte#
Oct. 21 at Pine Prairie#
Oct. 27 Eunice#
Nov. 4 at Northwest#
Ville Platte Bulldogs
Coach: Jorie Randle
2015: 5-6, 2-3
Last playoff appearance: 2015 (lost to Patterson in Class 3A first round)
Looking back: The Bulldogs returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Ville Platte’s five wins were the most since the team won seven times in 2012.
Moving forward: Questions on offense include replacing the Bulldogs' top two rushers and quarterback. Defensively, Ville Platte will rely heavily on senior linebacker Tralon Thomas, who racked up 127 tackles and 11 TFLs in 2015.
Ask The Advocate: While the team isn’t expected to compete for the district crown, Randle’s club should be in position to finish with a winning record.
Sept. 2 at Mamou
Sept. 9 at Basile
Sept. 16 at Lafayette Christian
Sept. 23 North Central
Sept. 30 Opelousas
Oct. 7 at Eunice#
Oct. 14 Port Barre#
Oct. 21 Northwest#
Oct. 28 at Pine Prairie#
Nov. 4 Church Point#
Church Point Bears
Coach: JC Arceneaux
2015: 8-4, 3-2
Last playoff appearance: 2015 (lost to Iowa in Class 3A second round)
Looking back: Behind three-time all-state selection Fred Williams, Church Point found itself in the postseason for the fifth consecutive season.
Moving forward: With nine returning starters (five on offense, four on defense), the Bears have plenty of questions to answer. On offense, look for Trey Babineaux to step in and fill the role vacated by Williams’ graduation. Big man Joel Bricenco will lead an inexperienced defense.
Ask The Advocate: In addition to new running backs, Church Point will also break in a new quarterback in senior Logan Marks, and the defense will be young, especially in the secondary. While the Bears have plenty of learning to do, another playoff showing is not out of the question.
Projected starters on offense (Wing-T)
*TE JC Arceneaux (6-0, 195, Sr.), WR Karson Matte (5-8, 150, Jr.), OT Gage Higginbotham (6-2, 250, Jr.), OG Hunter Nichol (5-10, 175, Jr.), *C Kane Bergeron (6-0, 230, Jr.), OG Darren Gobert (5-9, 190, So.), *OT Scott-Michael Richardson (5-9, 275, Sr.), QB Logan Marks (5-10, 170, Sr.), *RB Trey Babineaux (5-11, 190, Jr.) *RB Deshawn Wheeler (5-10, 150, Sr.)
Projected starters on defense (50)
*NT Thalone Gray (6-3, 255, Sr.), *DT Joel Briceno (6-0, 205, Sr.), DT Pat Boast (5-9, 235, Jr.), LB Ian Meche (6-1, 195, So.), LB Ronnie Meche (5-10, 165, Jr.) LB Eduardo Briceno (5-9, 165, So.), LB Ethan Daigle (5-10, 175, Jr.), *DB Trey Babineaux (5-11, 190, Jr.), DB Tyrin McDade (5-8, 145, So.), *DB Breeyln Jones (5-5, 125, So.), DB Deshawan Wheeler (5-10, 150, Sr.)
Sept. 2 Rayne
Sept. 9 Iowa
Sept. 16 Kaplan
Sept. 23 at Jennings
Sept. 30 at Franklinton
Oct. 7 at Port Barre#
Oct. 14 Pine Prairie#
Oct. 21 at Eunice#
Oct. 27 Northwest#
Nov. 4 at Ville Platte#
* — returning starter; # — district game