Playoff-bound McCall, 9-1, exceeds expectations

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 10, 2000

Heading into this season, the McCall Dragons were still in rebuilding mode. Coming off a 4-6 season, head coach Levi Washington hoped his team could make the playoffs and compete for a district title.

Instead McCall exceeded expectations. The Dragons nearly ran the table, going 9-1, won the District 3-2A title and will be rewarded with a home playoff game Friday night against Erath (6-4).

“I told you we would compete for the championship, but we went a little farther and won the championship,” Washington said.

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A big part of McCall’s rise has been the play of running back Jeramie O’Neal, the second-leading rusher in Louisiana with 2,091 yards and 24 touchdowns. Washington said the Dragons’ offensive line was a key part of that.

“We just can’t say enough about Jeramie, but the offensive line we have this year, these guys have come complete,” Washington said. “They have really put fear into opposing teams.”

It may be a little tougher to scare Erath. The Bobcats qualified for the playoffs out of District 5-2A, a south Louisiana district that includes two of the top four teams in Louisiana Class 2A and sent five of its six teams to the postseason.

“Every year we play a tough schedule, so hopefully it’s prepared us for this game to come,” Erath coach Jacob Byler said in a thick Cajun accent. “We feel like if we play our game, we can give anybody a football game. We’re not a dominating football team, but we’re not pushovers either.”

Byler said that stopping O’Neal, who is also the fifth-leading scorer in Louisiana, was the key to his team moving on to the second round.

“We don’t stop him, we’re not going to beat them,” Byler said. “They’ve got some other weapons, but he’s their main weapon.”

Elsewhere in Louisiana on Friday night, Newellton (4-6) and Tallulah High (5-4) have a tough row to hoe if they are to advance in the Class 1A playoffs.

Newellton, led by 1,500-yard rusher Jason Puryear, opens against No. 2 Haynesville (10-0), while Tallulah, led by multi-threat quarterback Michael Lewis, faces No. 8 Mamou (10-0).

“We knew how the power ratings went and this is who we figured we’d play,” Newellton coach John Sampson said. “We’re going into this thing healthy, and I like our chances.”

Meanwhile, back in Mississippi, Tri-County (11-1) will try to take the next step on the road to an Academy-A championship when it hosts Amite Academy (10-2) for the South State title.

The Rebels, trying to reach the title game for third time in five years, knocked off Briarfield 45-0 last week, while Amite shut out a tough River Oaks squad, 14-0.

Tri-County coach Bo Milton said a win would be huge for his program.

“This is a chance to go play for all of it, and this is the goal we set in January when we first went to work,” Milton said. “I think (a win) would be real big, and I think if this group does what it’s capable of doing, we’ve got as good a chance as any of the four teams left in it.”

Most of Tri-County’s seniors were freshmen in 1997, the last time the Rebels reached the title game. Milton hopes that experience stays with them as they try to reach the next level again.

“They were on the sideline and some of them got to play on special teams, and hopefully they’ll remember what that felt like and they’ll want to get back there,” Milton said.

In the Delta Friday night, South Delta (6-4) will try to advance past a team with tradition on its side when Amory (7-4) comes to Rolling Fork.

Amory won three state titles in the 1990s, the last one in 1998.

“You’re going to always have to deal with that,” South Delta coach James Denson said of Amory’s tradition. “When you get to the playoffs, people have not only won in the playoffs, they’ve won state championships. You’re always going to have to deal with success.”

Denson added that this week’s rain may slow down both teams. South Delta features a pass-oriented offense led by quarterback Terrance Hoye and wide receiver Jeremy Matthews, while Amory runs a lot of option plays.

“I don’t know if Mother Nature is going to let us (pass) with all of the rain we’ve had up here,” Denson said. “And when you get a wet situation, the option is almost like a passing play because you have to handle the football and pitch it and catch it.”