By LEE BRECHEEN, Special to the Journal
Today we preview local 5A playoff teams in Division I of the Non-Select side of the playoffs.
Ponchatoula at Benton
I saw No. 25-seed Ponchatoula play this year and last year, when they were runner-up to Zachary in the Class 5A state title game. I think the key to the game for No.8-seed Benton is in stopping the Ponchatoula offense — the strength of their team — led by a huge offensive line that includes seniors Brandon Stromeyer (center, 6-5, 265) guard/tackle Alvin Richardson (6-4, 305), and Justin Winder (5-11, 305).
They return their starting quarterback, senior Nolan Tribble, who has a good arm and good feet in the pocket. Don’t let the low 25-seed fool you: this is a team with lots of talent. The defense is led by senior tackle Tyler Bailey (6-2, 280), and senior linebackers Blake Hodges and Brant Monistere.
Benton will need a big game from its defense to win. All-State defensive back Sawyer Simmons & Co. will need to get some turnovers. Running back Greg Manning, quarterback Gray Walters and wide receiver Pearce Russell should have big nights stat-wise because Ponchatoula is young in its secondary and thin on defense; a lot of defenders are gone from the 2021 state runner-up team.
I think Benton wins if the Tigers can score at least 35 points and mix in some clock-eating drives to keep the Ponchatoula offense — very capable of scoring 35 or more — off the field.
Parkway at Dutchtown
I think this will be a great game and a close game. Both teams are even in the trenches and in the skill spots. The outcome will come down to a field goal, and one of the best is Parkway’s Aeron Burrell.
The Panthers will need a big game from their offense because the strength of the Dutchtown team is their gritty defense. Dutchtown has speed all over that side of the ball. The Dutchtown D is led by linebackers Dickson Agu, 6-2, 220 with 4.5 speed, and Blake Bowie, 6-1, 215 with 4.6 speed.
Dutchtown has struggled offensively but its line averages over 260 pounds, led by Wayne McKinney (6-3, 285) and senior Ethan Fields (6-4, 315). Running back Gary Dukes impressed me; he’s a first-year starter at that spot and runs a 4.45 40.
I see 19-seed Parkway winning by a field goal if the defense plays really well. The Panthers are led on defense by end Kris Mesloh (5-11, 230) and linebackers Barrett Newman (6-2, 215) and Ray Mayweather; each will need a sure-tackling night because No. 14-seed Dutchtown is a running team.
A big play from Parkway skill star Jaylan White and his 4.4 speed would not hurt the Panthers’ chances.
Haughton at Airline
I don’t like when local teams have to play each other in the first round of the playoffs and think these teams would have liked to have seen a new opponent. But you can count on one thing: these teams know one another really well, both players and coaches.
Airline is seeded 6th and Haughton 27th — but throw that out the window since these are district opponents trying to win a playoff game.
Airline will need a solid game out of sophomore quarterback Ben Taylor (6-2, 180) and wide receivers Daxton Chavez (6-4, 190), Bob Patterson, Cameron Jefferson and others. Haughton needs a big game from its defense, led by senior linebacker Connor Blank and speedy All-District corner DJ Riser (5-11, 185).
I like Airline, a 55-42 winner in the two teams’ first meeting this fall, but it should be a tough game that Haughton — in the playoffs for the 26th straight year — will be “up” for.
Contact Lee at LBrecheen@aol.com