BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting Writer
(Photo of Ja’Vian Reese, taken by Susan Angelle)
Opelousas High is playing for a state football championship for the first time in 67 years, while Northwest High finished 2023 with a historic trip to a semifinal playoff round.
The pair of St. Landry Parish programs, located about 15 miles apart, created a combined local postseason atmosphere that became as intriguing and successful as anyone can remember.
Opelousas (11-3) is now scheduled to play Cecilia (12-1) for a Division II non-select title beginning this Friday at noon inside the Ceasar’s Superdome in New Orleans.
The Tigers won their semifinal game Friday night in Stonewall, defeating top-seeded North DeSoto 28-20. Opelousas, which has never won a football title in school history, last played for a state championship in 1956.
Northwest (10-4) ended the season losing at Cecilia Friday night (55-18) in a semifinal game that took over five hours to complete due to inclement weather.
Both Opelousas and Northwest provided a pair of engaging playoff storylines that featured two lower-seeded football teams that spent most of the postseason collectively playing eight-away games and combining for seven wins.
Opelousas, a No. 12 seed, defeated the number four and five Division II teams. Northwest, seeded No. 22, also beat three higher-ranked playoff teams, beating numbers six and three, before losing to second-seeded Cecilia.
Cecilia defeated Opelousas 25-22 in a regular season contest that ultimately decided the District 5-4A championship. The Tigers, who finished behind Cecilia in the district standings,have won seven straight after that defeat.
Northwest was one of three teams sharing the District 4-3A title.
Opelousas 28, North DeSoto 20
The Tigers led at halftime 8-0 and then outscored North DeSoto whose offense reenergized during the final two quarters.
Opelousas running back De’Shaun Ford, who gained 213 yards on 28 carries, scored on the only touchdown of the first half when he broke a couple of tackles, maintained his balance and then raced into the end zone.
The Griffins, who did not have to travel during the playoffs, fumbled away a pair of goal line chances to take the lead before the intermission.
Opelousas first punched the ball away from Griffins’ receiver Tucker Brewster, who lost possession at the 10. That turnover was followed by another when NDSHS running back Tyrone Hopper fumbled into the end zone. The ball was recovered subsequently by Opelousas.
Hopper later scored on a four-yard run.
The North DeSoto second half comeback derailed again when the Griffins faked a fourth quarter 27-yard field goal. However the pass attempt was intercepted by Opelousas.
Opelousas quarterback Zach Malveaux provided three touchdowns on two passes and a run.
Cecilia 55, Northwest 18
Cecilia, which also played three home playoff games after receiving a first-round bye, featured an offense that scored on all six first half possessions.
The Bulldogs, who last appeared in a state football championship game in 1995, finished the Northwest game with 487 rushing yards.
Northwest gained 310 yards, but the Raiders were able to complete only three of eight passing attempts for 38.
Raiders’ senior running back Ja’Vian Reese completed his career with 131 rushing yards on 11 attempts. Quarterback Craig Malveaux gained 35 on 15 carries.
Reese scored two of the three Northwest touchdowns. In the first half on a fourth down attempt from the Raiders’ 28-yard line, Reese collected a bobbled snap and ran 72 yards for a TD.
Northwest also scored when Mark Owen picked up a blocked fourth down punt and returned the ball for another score.
Cecilia quarterback Diesel Solari, running back Corey Broussard and receiver Ellis Stewart provided much of the Bulldogs’ offense.
Broussard sliced through the Northwest defense on 78 and 64-yard touchdown runs. Broussard also scored on a pair of goal line attempts of three yards each.
Solari completed eight of nine throws for 143 yards. Stewart caught five of the completions for 78.