What a difference a season makes.
There is no way around it; 2016 wasn’t the best year for Ascension Parish football.
Sure, there was a lot of good in there.
St. Amant went 9-1 and reached the state quarterfinals, as did Ascension Catholic. East Ascension pulled off an emphatic upset over Ruston in the opening round of the playoffs, and Ascension Christian had their greatest season in school history as they finished 8-2.
Still, the parish experienced some uncharacteristic struggles.
Donaldsonville went just 4-6 and was dropped from the first round of the playoffs. Dutchtown went just 3-7 and missed the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
And though East Ascension would eventually turn things around late in the year, they started the season in an 0-6 hole.
At the midway mark of the season, parish teams combined to go just 15-13 in 2016. At the halfway mark of 2017, they had a combined record of 25-5.
Three parish teams went a perfect 5-0. This included both teams in Donaldsonville.
East Ascension went 4-1, and Dutchtown and Ascension Christian both went 3-2. The three wins already matched the Griffins’ win total of all of the previous year.
Much of the parish teams’ problems in 2016 stemmed from rebuilding. They were forced to throw many young and inexperienced players out on the field to get baptized by fire.
This year, those players are older and wiser and have developed into tremendous starters. The programs are reaping the benefits.
Ascension Catholic has the best offensive line they’ve had under third-year head coach Drey Trosclair, and it’s made their tailback combo of Jamar Barber and sophomore Jai Williams almost unstoppable.
Both players rushed for over 600 yards through the first five weeks.
And on defense, both players have sured up a unit that gave up their share of big plays and big points last season. Players like Dillion Davis, Bubba Gautreau and Mason Zeringue have certainly helped.
Ascension Christian is finding ways to win, despite starting a sophomore quarterback in Derrick Varnado, who was playing receiver at this time last year.
Running back Landon Ortego has taken some of the pressure off of his back by becoming a force on the ground the past few weeks. In a win over Fisher, Ortego set a new school record for most rushing yards in a game with 297.
Donaldsonville had to fight through youth and injuries in 2016, but they’ve rolled this year.
They went 5-0 for the first time since 2010, behind second-year starter at quarterback Jaylin Williams. Williams had eight touchdowns and no interceptions through the first five games.
Also, the Tahj Brown and Davon Wright-led defense has shown drastic improvements. Through the first five games of 2016, they gave up 34 points per contest. This year, they gave up just 11 points in that span.
Dutchtown has hit their stride under first-year head coach Guy Mistretta.
The Van’Shon Grayson and LaMarcus Jones-led secondary has been very opportunistic, and second-year starting quarterback Ben Mays has matured and turned into one of the best QBs in the parish.
He has gotten it done both through the air and on the ground this season.
East Ascension has won, despite losing all-district running back Ralph Williams for the year with a knee injury.
To fill in, they’ve given more carries to cornerback Jimel London, and he has been sensational. London rushed for 249 yards and four touchdowns alone in the Spartans’ win over Cecilia.
London has also done big things for the Spartan defense, along with linebacker Adrian Johnson and Adrian Bowie.
The East Ascension defense gave up just 18 points per contest through five games.
St. Amant has shown no signs of slowing down since last year, despite losing a ton of seniors—including starting quarterback Hayden Mallory and all-everything player, Briggs Bourgeois.
Halen Miller has stepped in at QB and has managed the game well. He’s gotten a huge boost from running back Cade Nelson—who rushed for just a shade under 700 yards and 10 touchdowns through five games.
Grant Alexander has been a reliable target for Miller through the air.
The defense has also been terrific, allowing just 14 points per game halfway through the season.
Much of their success has come from front seven players like Johnny Johnson, Jacolby Landry and Jacob Furlow. K.J. Franklin has emerged as a terrific starting cornerback.