LEESVILLE – Three weeks ago, 32 teams in Class 4A were still practicing and getting ready to play on Friday nights, but that number has dwindled down to just four.
Leesville is one game away from playing for a state title in New Orleans, but standing in the way is No. 2 Warren Easton.
"They're long, strong, fast and are well coached," Leesville head coach Robert Causey said. "They have a solid scheme on both sides of the ball. Things that were open a little bit longer against other teams close quicker this week. It's really made us look at things we do to make sure we are coaching the right way to give ourselves a chance. We feel like we have had a good week of practice. Our kids are in tune to our gameplan. We are trying to keep it simple to play fast."
Warren Easton (10-2) are one of the top teams in the state with both losses coming to elite teams in Louisiana.
The Eagles lost to Class 4A No. 1 Edna Karr in Week 10 of the regular season, and John Curtis, the No. 1 team in Division I.
"You can see on film what they are all about," Causey said. "You can see what a team could have done to beat them. Karr and Curtis are established programs, and those kids have been in the program for a while."
Warren Easton averages 39.5 points a game with top-notch athletes all over the field.
"They're sound in their scheme," Causey said. "They line up in 10 personnel and run inside zone, trap, veer, outside zone and the passing game is tunnels, bubbles, outs and verts. Typical 10 stuff, in coach speak. It's the speed they do it with their athletes. They're a charter school with open enrollment in Orleans Parish. We're Leesville. Their talent pool is so much larger than what we have. They're not going to change for us, and we're not going to change for them."
The Eagles have one of the top defenses in the state, giving up 12.4 points per contest.
"They're very physical up front," Leesville right tackle Matthew Anderson said. "We haven't seen that caliber of people. They're something to be said about New Orleans teams, but I think they haven't gone up against anybody like us yet. I realize that everybody says we're the underdogs, but I like to think that they're the underdogs.
"It's been the funnest year. I didn't expect all of this to happen. I knew we were a good team, but I never thought it would all come together how it did."
Leesville is coming off an emotional 53-49 win over St. Martinville, where it scored two touchdowns in the final two minutes to pull off the upset. Causey is hoping there is no emotional fatigue heading into the state semifinals.
"We didn't play that well going into St. Louis because we had a little hangover from playing Tioga," he said. "We didn't play well. It's always a concern when you look back. Everything we do in this building is look forward. My message every Friday night when the game is over is to celebrate this win, but when you walk off the field, put it in your back pocket.
"As a community that is starved for winning, you have to know how to handle that success. It's great, but it's to be expected. That's what we're trying to do here."
The community support of the Wampus Cats has grown a lot over the last three seasons with fans packing the stands every game, on the road and at home.
Charter buses are planned for the trip to New Orleans, and the school was out of presale tickets early on Thursday.
"Everybody loves a winner," Causey said. "I remember our first year here, and we played Karr in the second round, and the stadium was half full. I grew up in a small town, and in the heyday of Winnfield football, there was an outpour of support. As a kid, it stuck with me. I've always wanted to be a part of that. Being here and having the opportunity to be the head coach, it's what I want to do. I said in my interview that I want this town to come back.
"I told people that I want them to come back and support these kids. I can't guarantee what we are going to win every game, but I can guarantee our kids are going to compete."
As a program, Causey has big goals going beyond this season, but right now, he is excited to put on his headset and watch his guys strap on that pads at least one more time.
"We're humbled to be where we are at," Causey said. "It gives us another week to practice football and hang out with these kids for another week. Being around them is such a blessing. We feel like we are getting better this week as coaches. We're evaluating ourselves after watching them on film and seeing what we can do to close that gap with them. Our kids are getting better because they are seeing what they need to do as well.
"They're a quality opponent. What can you say; you're in the state semifinals with one of the best teams in the state, if not the nation. We're looking forward to it."