(Last week's 5A picks: 2-2) (Overall this year: 102-38) (Cumulative: 221-73)
No. 3 Byrd (12-0) at No. 7 Carencro (12-1)
If you enjoy watching teams run the football, the "Cro Dome" is the place to be Friday night.
In 2010, Carencro lost in the first round of the playoffs to Brother Martin and dropped five games overall. This year, however, the Bears showed marked improvement, losing only to defending state champion Acadiana. Head coach Brent Indest's team, which spent much of the season ranked nationally by Scout.com, features the state's leading rusher, Alex Johnson. The senior set a school-record this fall by running for over 2,500 yards. Last week, Johnson went for 227 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries as Carencro ousted previously-unbeaten Jesuit in New Orleans.
Johnson (pictured, bottom) also gathered in a 26-yard touchdown pass in the quarterfinals from senior QB Jalen Nixon. A 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior, Nixon is being recruited as an outside linebacker by FBS programs.
"The running back (Johnson) runs well and the quarterback is physical," said Ouachita Parish defensive end JeMarcus Marshall, whose team was defeated by Carencro in the second round. "The quarterback is physical and will drop his shoulder. He doesn't go down easy."
In the Ouachita game, Johnson threw an 80-yard halfback pass to WR Shawn Thomas for one score and Nixon dashed into the end zone for another as Carencro came back from a 24-14 fourth quarter deficit to prevail, 28-24.
In week four, Thomas set a school-record with 10 receptions in the Bears' 49-7 whipping of Lafayette High. All 10 of Nixon's completions that evening went to Thomas, who also logs snaps in the defensive backfield. Junior wingback Jaylan Rose does a great job of complementing Johnson. Rose ran for a touchdown last week and scored five in the Bears' 69-48 win over 2A power Calvary Baptist in week three. Johnson had a season-high 346 yards rushing with three touchdowns on 30 totes vs. Calvary Baptist.
Many people expected the Bears to go 0-3 in a challenging trio of games -- vs. East St. John, Northside and Calvary -- that dotted the opening weeks of the season. In week one, Carencro showed it would be a likely contender by handling East St. John, 35-7. Three-star defensive lineman Jacoby Briscoe is 6-foot-4 and just under 300 pounds. He's listed as a tackle on Scout but plays end for Coach Indest. Adam Clark (6-3, 220, Sr.) lines up at the other end. LB Kye Poole is among the leading tacklers for the Bears. Fellow LB Tim Albert came up with a big interception last week.
Byrd also surprised many people this year with its rousing success. The Yellow Jackets, like Carencro, were knocked out of the 2010 playoffs in the first round (by Ouachita). QB Richard Carthon, one of 39 seniors on the roster, directs a Wing-T offense that utilizes a heavy dose of the option.
The Yellow Jackets made a splash on Thursday of week one, beating perennial power West Monroe for the first time since 2002. Carthon, a future college baseball player, accounted for three touchdowns in the 30-23 win.
In the quarterfinals, Byrd topped Archbishop Rummel by a 35-24 margin. Carthon carried for a 54-yard TD and Christian Willis chipped in with a 31-yarder. Nicholas People, who intercepted three passes in the regular season vs. Parkway, returned a punt 76 yards to paydirt, and Chris Wilson sealed the deal with a crucial interception late in the game.
Senior TE Paul Arcement (game-winning touchdown catch in the second round vs. Airline) and fullback Xavier Long are additional players to watch on offense. Long (5-6, 185, Jr.) scored five touchdowns and rambled for 198 yards in the first round against West Jefferson.
BOTTOM LINE: This is being billed as a "Wing-T vs. Wing-T" matchup, although the two offenses are based on different philosophies. Carencro frequently uses the double-wing and sprinkles in a few plays out of the shotgun. Alex Johnson is a north/south runner who gets the vast majority of his yardage between the tackles (as does Nixon). Byrd prefers an option-oriented attack with the speedy Carthon often keeping the football for substantial gains.
Carencro was our preseason No. 1 and we're sticking to it. No one has held Byrd to fewer than 30 points...can the Bears?