Zachary, St. Amant off to solid starts

Advocate staff photo by Brenden Neville  Zachary head coach Neil Weiner talks with players during a time out during the game against East Feliciana on Friday, September 16, 2011, in Zachary.  MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/
Advocate staff photo by Brenden Neville Zachary head coach Neil Weiner talks with players during a time out during the game against East Feliciana on Friday, September 16, 2011, in Zachary. MAGS OUT / INTERNET OUT/ONLINE OUT/NO SALES/TV OUT/FOREIGN OUT/ LOUISIANA BUSINESS INC./GREATER BATON ROUGE BUSINESS REPORT/225/10/12/IN REGISTER/LBI CUSTOM PUBLICATIONS OUT/

While other teams in their districts have gotten most of the notoriety, Zachary and St. Amant have had solid starts

Given the attention that has been lavished on some of their Class 5A district football contemporaries, it would be easy to look right past St. Amant and Zachary.

Two of St. Amant’s District 5-5A rivals, Catholic High and East Ascension, are ranked in the 5A top 10. In 4-5A, Scotlandville is unbeaten and Central is the team with a long string of district titles.

But the Gators (2-1) and Broncos (2-1) have something going for them too — an impressive three-week evolution that started with a Week 1 loss.

“I told our parents and fans that we would be a work in progress,” St. Amant coach David Oliver said. “There’s no doubt that we expect to be a better team in weeks 4, 5 and 6 than we were at the start of the year.

“And I’ll say this, the other teams, like Catholic, East Ascension and Dutchtown, in our district are all very good. McKinley (2-1) and Woodlawn (2-1) have played well. But I wouldn’t sleep on the Gators. I like where we are, and am excited about what we can be.”

Both teams face different tests Friday. St. Amant hosts traditional 4A power Lutcher (1-2). Zachary entertains Scotlandville (2-0) in a 4-5A opener.

Things looked pretty bleak for Zachary during a 58-21 season-opening road loss to C.E. Byrd in Shreveport. Since then, Byrd also has moved into the 5A top and the Broncos simply kept moving.

“We ran into a buzz saw with Byrd,” Zachary coach Neil Weiner said. “They were hitting on all cylinders. We came out of there knowing we didn’t play our best.

“The second week our defense played extremely well, but the offense sputtered. Last week we put things together and played well in just about every phase of the game.”

Given the makeup of the two teams, improvement was expected. St. Amant returned no starters on offense and just three on defense. A 31-29 loss to 4A Warren Easton exposed both problems and potential. Wins over Higgins (34-0) and H.L. Bourgeois (30-0) followed.

The Gators had a defense with two all-district performers, lineman Reece LeBlanc and linebacker Nathan Martinez, back along with defensive back Donovan Lewis.

“We felt like we had a good base for our defense with those guys,” Oliver said. “We’ve also had other guys who have stepped into roles for us. We knew we needed to give the offense time to mature. We’ve shut out our last two opponents and we held EA scoreless in a jamboree. Now the key is getting more consistent on offense.”

Zachary’s 45-0 victory over 2A East Feliciana last week detailed the Broncos’ growth. Different players have stepped into the spotlight in wins over Northwest and EFHS.

Running back Forrest Town ran for 164 yards on 14 carries and scored three TDs for Zachary last week. Defensive back Phillip Brooks also had a breakout game with an interception for a touchdown. Christopher Carrier has filled multiple roles and is the team’s top receiver along with playing safety and on special teams.

Wary of a rich tradition that belies Lutcher’s 1-2 record, Oliver is approaching Friday’s game with caution. Lutcher’s lone win is via foreit. The LHSAA ruled that McDonogh 35 played an ineligible player its Week 2 win over the Bulldogs.

“They’ve had injuries and they’ve played a tough schedule,” Oliver said of Lutcher. “Our guys know this isn’t a typical 1-2 opponent.”

Weiner needs no motivational speeches. Scotlandville running back Dontrell Hilliard has tallied close to 400 yards against the Broncos the past two years.

“Scotlandville is very good,” Weiner said. “To me, Hilliard is probably the most underrated running back in the state. I think everybody can contend in our district this year and that makes every week a challenge.”

While Week 4 is a test, it’s part of a progression for Zachary and St. Amant.