“Cinda’Devils” bounce back grid season ends with road playoff loss Friday

Tryve Brackin
TRIPLE OPTION STRUGGLES…Plaquemine High’s triple option offensive attack struggled Friday night against a solid and quick Independence defensive unit. Green Devil QB Darvin Butler (9) is about to be mauled by a Tiger defender before he can hand the pigskin away in the backfield.

What had been a wonderful, bounce back football season for a struggling Plaquemine High gridiron program came to a stop Friday night up at Independence High as the hosting Tigers used muscle and equal speed to beat the Green Devils 28-6 in a first-round 3-A state playoff game.

The Green Devil football program, which produced a mere five victories over the previous four campaigns, finally got untracked this season with six victories and a state playoff berth under new head coach Bob Howell. It proved to be the “Cinderella Story” of Iberville Parish prep football this school year, but the 2009 “Cinda-Devils” struggled with themselves over their final four games.

PHS lost three consecutive District 8-A grid games to end their regular season with a 6-4 mark. However, their wonderful 6-1 non-district start, combined with a key comeback victory over league foe Port Allen High, enabled the Green Devils to return to the state playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

The vast improvement in Green Devil Country football led one Baton Rouge area sportscaster to note that Howell deserves some kind of Coach of the Year award for his ability to turn around Plaquemine’s gridiron fortunes.

Howell, however, is quick to point to the great assistance of defensive coordinator and former head coach Ken Hilton, the renewed faith of PHS coaches who stayed with the program, and the addition of former head coach Scott Allen from North Iberville for their loyalty and commitment to improving the Green Devil lot in 2009. He also has noted the 2009 Green Devil players stayed committed to doing what it took to be a winner on the gridiron again. PHS also gained a boost with the addition of several talented players from the NIHS Bear team, which was disbanded when the Iberville Parish School Board closed the high school’s doors before the 2009-2010 year began.

All that noted, the Green Devils could not keep pace with an Independence Tiger grid program that has been in the state playoffs and boosted winning programs for more years than can be counted.

On the eve of the first-round state playoff game, Coach Howell knew well the challenge his ball club would face, especially after they had suffered back-to-back District 8-3A losses to St. James and Livonia with poor second-half showings.

He told PS SPORTS that Independence’s veteran coaching staff would not likely allow their Tigers to overlook the Green Devils with a possible second-round rematch with neighboring and district rival Amite High pending. Howell hinted that his Green Devils could not afford to make mistakes and would have to be ready to play their best game and be emotionally ready to upset the sixth-seeded Tigers.

When the Green Devils hit the field Friday night they already were a bit shaken with offensive leader and quarterback Ameer Deggs nursing an ankle injury suffered in the regular season finale. Backup QB and regular starting defensiver corner Darvin Butler took Deggs’ place in the offensive lineup and did a solid job and certainly looked like the field general of the future for PHS. But having Deggs still hobbled did not help the confidence of the PHS offense.

Deggs managed to get into the game after Independence drove in for the first points of the game in the first period. He made a 4-yard run on the PHS triple option, but quickly exited after a hit re-injured him.

The loss of Deggs may had weighed heavily on his teammates, but the real key to the loss was the overall strength of the hosting Tigers. Independence controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the game as they bottled up the triple option and shut down the PHS rushing attack. Plaquemine managed only 56 yards of offense in the contest with the passing attack more than matching the yards gained on the ground. PHS turned in its best drive of the first half with pass receptions by Reggie Travis and Nick Thomas sparking a nifty run by Jason Porch to get the ball into Tiger territory. The majority of the first half the Green Devils ran into a stonewall and had to punt, punt, punt.

In the meantime, the Tiger offense clicked. Dangerous QB Chris Carter and RBs Marshall Belazan and Desmond Copeland ran for solid yardage behind strong, crisp blocking up front, scoring once in the first period and twice in the second period to mount a 21-0 halftime lead. Belazan’s 49-yard TD dash in the third stanza sealed the victory. Independence rolled up 328 yards total offense against a PHS defense that fought hard Friday night as they did all season long.

The Green Devil defense hung in to keep the Tigers from running away with a big victory, while the PHS offense showed some savvy by rallying in the final period to score its only points of the game. The Green Devils scored their touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Butler to senior wideout Travis.

The game turned into a contest one might expect with a number 22-seeded visitor falling to a number 11-seeded first-round host. However, it was part of the rebirth process for Plaquemine High football. Howell plans to spend off-season workout time developing more team strength and a spring session is which he and his staff can add more to their existing plans. The new PHS mentor spent much of last spring just getting familiar with his players, while trying to piece together some sort of new direction for the program. A 6-4 regular season to go with state playoff experience was a tremendous step to that process.