Playoff victory brings East Iberville to historic high for football program

Staff Report

High school football traditionally ends by mid-December, but East Iberville instead finds itself in a landmark event – and it may not be the last this season.

East Iberville head coach Justin Joseph leads his team into the state semifinals.

The No. 2-seeded Tigers host No. 3 seed Grant Lake tomorrow night (Friday) for what will be the first time ever that EIHS played in the Class 1A semifinals. It will also mark the third consecutive home playoff game for East Iberville.

East Iberville will head into action one week before Christmas in hopes of earning the biggest Yuletide gift in the history of the program when they vie for a spot in the Class 1A State Championship game in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Prep Classic Dec. 27-30 at Harry Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches.

East Iberville is the only parish team still alive in the high school football playoffs

As the only parish school still in the playoffs, it’s uncharted territory for a program that had consecutive winless seasons less than 10 years ago.

It all seems like a distant memory, East Iberville head coach Justin Joseph said

“It’s a surreal feeling, one that is really big for the community, and it’s a testimony to the trust kids have had for me and the coaching staff, and a willingness to stick together and believe,” he said. “Everybody is reaching out to me and everyone wants to come out to the game – even my old coaching buddies.”

East Iberville running back Skylar Jones tries to work his way through Haynesville defenders in action Friday, Dec. 11 in St. Gabriel. The 25-15 Class 1A quarterfinal win over Haynesville sent the Tigers to their first-ever appearance in the semifinals, where they will host Grade Lake on Friday, Dec. 18.

The semifinal berth seems surreal, particularly because of the adversity the program endured off the field.

A quarantine after communal exposure the coronavirus sidelined the team two weeks in November.

“It made me question the fate of this season in terms of whether the seeding would change, will some other program catapult over us, or if our kids would get the recognition they deserve,” Joseph said. “With God’s grace, everything stayed in place for us.”

EIHS reached the semifinals after a 25-18 win over Haynesville in quarterfinal action Dec. 11.

The Tigers will await District 4-1A runner-up Grand Lake (7-1, 4-1) after the Hornets advanced in a 27-7 win at Centerville.

The Hornets will seek revenge against EIHS for last year’s 28-20 double-overtime loss in second-round action Nov. 22.

“Grand Lake is a team we played last year, and they were pretty hardnosed,” Joseph said. “They do what they do very well, and they do it with no apologies.”

Grand Lake has had more than its share of off-field adversity. Aside from COVID-19, the Cameron Parish-based school has operated on virtual format since the campus sustained severe damage during Hurricane Laura in late August.

Standouts for the Hornets include senior quarterback Eli Fountain, senior running backs Branson Aguillard and Kolby Pugh, junior kicker/wide receiver Jose Del Rosal, senior Kylar Little and senior linebacker Derek David.

As for EISH, the Tigers must keep the Hornet offense off the field to shut down a potent ground attack, Joseph said. They must also remain focused on the game at hand rather than what could lie ahead, Joseph said.

Pandemic restrictions that prompted LHSAA’s move from New Orleans to Shreveport for this year’s title games come with some disappointment for Joseph, but the prize remains the same in the end.

“It’s every coach’s goal to give the kids the Superdome experience, and as a Louisiana kid I always strived for it,” he said. “But we’ve adapted the attitude that we just want to be in the game and play against anybody.”

On the other hand, the relocation brings one advantage, Joseph said.

“It’s better for me as a coach in my thought process, because of the aura of the Superdome,” he said. “A lot of my kids had never been, and I’ve seen some kids get lost in the lights, so for that game not to be in a 'Dome' atmosphere would make it more like a regular football game for us, which could work well for us. But we first we have to get past Grand Lake.”