A year ago, Warren Easton and Rayne both saw their state title hopes drift away just one game shy of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The No. 11-seeded Wolves were shut out in the semifinals last season by eventual runner-up Lakeshore, while the Eagles fell to top-seed and eventual Class 4A champion Edna Karr.
On Friday, Rayne’s hopes were squashed far earlier.
Motivated by another tight loss last Thursday to Karr, coach Jerry Phillips and Warren Easton took their first step in setting up a rematch with this year’s top seed, shutting out Rayne 44-0 at Pan American Stadium.
“I was really impressed with out tempo tonight,” junior running back Ashaad Clayton said. “We’ve been practicing fast, and it’s starting to carry onto the field.”
Boasting a balanced, up-tempo offense, the Eagles needed just 1:16 to slash 60 yards on the game’s opening possession for their first of four first-quarter scores.
After an emotional loss to close the regular season, Clayton said he and his teammates prepared mentally and physically for what they hope is a lengthy playoff run. The quick start was just what they’d drawn up.
“Practice this week was mostly mental because it’s playoff time and we’ve got to have everybody right there,” the junior running back said. “But now I think we’re locked and loaded.”
After the Eagles (8-2) swatted an opening Rayne punt and recovered at the 3-yard line, Clayton dove in again the following play for a 14-0 lead. He finished with 66 yards rushing on eight attempts and three total scores.
With the Wolves offense scrambling, senior running back Darian Richard broke open a 22-yard dash to midfield on the following drive — but Warren Easton senior corner Chester Kimbrough came from behind for the strip and recovered the fumble.
Two plays later, Eagles quarterback Lance Legendre found junior Jewell Holmes streaking down the left sideline and caught him in stride for a 62-yard score. After less than six minutes, the Eagles held a 20-0 lead off eight offensive plays.
“We came into this game trying to focus more than anything on getting rid of mistakes,” Phillips said. “The defense played really well and held it down for the offense. They played lights-out, and I feel like we’re in a really good spot right now.”
Legendre finished with three touchdown passes of 62, 29 and 37 yards to three separate receivers. He racked up 263 yards on 9-of-17 passing.
Senior safety Jahmal Sam tacked on a 75-yard interception return midway through the third quarter, but the Eagles offense went nearly two quarters without points. Legendre and Clayton connected on a 37-yard swing pass with two minutes left in the third quarter for a 42-0 lead, and a late-third-quarter safety on the Wolves capped the scoring.
Though the scoreboard didn’t show it, Phillips said his squad may have gotten overly excited with the early lead, but the defense continued to hold the Wolves at bay.
Outside of Richard’s 114 yards on 26 carries, Easton gave up 62 more yards on 22 plays. On the final play of the game, with Rayne (3-8) in the red zone for the first time all night, the Warren Easton defense stuffed Richard from 10 yards out to preserve the shutout.
“It’s definitely a cliché, but defense wins championships,” he said.