Evangel’s 2023 standard: the ‘E’ stands for effort

By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports

There is abundant talent on the Evangel Christian Academy football team.

The dynamic Fulgham brothers, quarterback Peyton and receiver Parker, piling up yards. Explosive playmaker Tyreek Robinson keeps defenses from locking down on Parker.

Menacing defender Gabe Reliford is an every-snap concern for opposing offenses. And that’s just a short list of big concerns for ECA foes.

But as Evangel prepares for its second-round Division II Select playoff trip to play in New Orleans against Archbishop Shaw, the Eagles’ key is not talent, said coach Denny Duron.

“The one thing they’ve done is play hard. That’s the one thing I ask of them. The ‘E’ has stood for effort this year, because we have played for four quarters every game,” he said. “We lost four, but those were due to unforced errors. We made some big mistakes and lost, but it was not a lack of effort.”

Evangel (7-4) has won six of its last eight, including a dominant 49-0 rout of 21st seeded Belaire last Friday in the opening round of the playoffs. Peyton Fulgham threw six touchdown passes and 12th-seeded ECA opened a 35-0 halftime lead.

That performance – the only winning one by a local team in the first round – would have made the Eagles a smart pick for the Shreveport-Bossier Journal Team of the Week spotlight in any scenario.

This could be a team finding itself just at the right moment.

“It does seem like that,” said Duron, “and I sure hope that’s true.

“These guys have stayed focused all year, and I’m really hoping something wonderful happens for them as they continue to play hard down the stretch.”

Personifying that hard working mentality is the Evangel offensive line. Despite losing standout Triston Santoro on the fifth play of their Week 7 38-28 loss to North DeSoto, the job’s been done at a high level up front, said Duron.

The Eagles averaged 16 yards per rushing attempt last week.

“Every week that we run the ball, we’re putting up great, great numbers. I’m so proud of those guys. They’re a special, special group,” said Duron.

The left side is Jason Carpenter (tackle) and Caleb Diggs (guard). At center is big Christian Speight, and on the right is Kaleb Duncan (guard) and Donnie Shavers (tackle).

“Those guys can really play. They’re getting better every week, and they’re enjoying it more every second,” Duron said.

They are coached by 73-year-old Danny Palmer, a former quarterback at Southern Mississippi who was a longtime offensive line coach for the Houston Cougars under four different head coaches. Palmer, once a finalist for the Broyles Award (given to the nation’s top assistant coach), has a long, highly-accomplished high school coaching resume.

As Duron watched tape of last Friday’s game, he marveled at the o-line’s performance.

“I don’t know if I’d ever see a high school line play that well. They are extraordinary.”

Palmer and Duron are two-thirds of what is surely one of the state’s most experienced (and older) coaching staffs. The third cog is widely-respected veteran defensive assistant Ronnie Alexander, who has a different role now. This season, he relinquished his defensive coordinator post to his son, Josh.

“He’s done a great job, a fantastic job,” said Duron. “His guys are running to the ball, playing hard, doing a lot of good things every game. Our defense played faster last week than they have all year long. They found another gear.”

The Eagles are hoping to reach the state quarterfinals after bowing in the second round a year ago in a down-to-the-wire loss at highly-ranked E.D. White in Thibodaux. This time, it’s 9-2 Shaw, seeded fifth in the bracket, in the way.

Duron likes the squad he’s taking south to the Crescent City.

“Whoever plays these Eagles, they’ll have a challenge on their hands,” he said, “because these boys play hard for four quarters.”

Contact Doug at sbjdoug@gmail.com