The area’s best offense will meet its best defense in an early battle for the inside track to a District 1-5A title Friday night at Parkway.
No. 10 Evangel hopes to hand the No. 2 Panthers their first loss of the season. To do it, the Eagles need to slow down an offense averaging more than 50 points per game thanks largely to the state’s most productive quarterback and wide receiver duo.
“It’s just ridiculous what a great job (wideout) Terrace (Marshall has done),” Evangel coach Byron Dawson said Thursday. “He looks like Randy Moss out there. You got size, you got speed, you got hands, you got everything that you would want in a wide receiver and you’ve got a quarterback that can throw it a mile.”
Justin Rogers’ 962 passing yards in three Parkway wins ranks first in the state by more than 150 yards, and he went to the sideline for good after the opening possession of the second half during last week’s 35-0 rout of Huntington. Marshall, generally regarded as one of the country’s top two receivers for the class of 2018, leads Louisiana with 490 yards and six touchdowns on just 17 catches.
Panthers coach David Feaster knows it won’t be easy to keep up those video-game numbers against a defense he said will be the most talented his team faces all season. Defensive tackle Davin Cotton, linebacker Micah Baskerville and safety Ardarius Washington join Parkway’s dynamic offensive duo among Lousiana’s top 14 juniors, according to 247sports.
“They’re one of the few teams that’s got the size up front that’s very difficult to block and the speed in the secondary where they can play man-to-man or whatever they want to play,” Feaster said. “We just have to find ways to fool them and to keep them honest and challenge our offensive lineman that you’re going up against somebody good, let’s see what you’re made of.”
Although Dawson said the season began with some injuries in blowout losses to Allen (Tex.) and Neville, two of MaxPreps’ top 70 teams in the nation, he’s confident they’ll be much more healthy for the district opener. The Eagles defense allowed only one first down in a 62-18 win at Lagrange last week and also needed to overcome 11 turnovers in its first three games, so senior defensive tackle Justin Henderson said they’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove the doubters wrong.
Their front seven, which Dawson highlighted as the strength of the unit, possesses a noticeable size advantage against the somewhat young and inexperienced Parkway offensive line. Feaster said even with Evangel’s elite individual talent, his staff won’t gameplan against just one due to the strength of the complementary players.
The same holds true for Parkway’s skill players on offense, which also features Texas San-Antonio commit Robert McKnight as a running back and slot receiver along with a host of great athletes. That includes senior Chase Hill, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound wingback who readily admits he’d lose badly in a race against Rogers, McKnight and Marshall but still embraces a role that produced long touchdowns against Lufkin and Huntington.
“I see it mostly as an advantage,” Hill said. “(Opposing defenses) haven’t heard of me. I haven’t played offense. I played defense last year, so they don’t really spot me.”
As a result, he spent a lot more time on the field than the Parkway’s offensive players in a 56-21 loss at Evangel. Hill remembers the Panthers didn’t seem prepared that night, while Eagles senior defensive tackle Justin Henderson credits the surprise blowout to a consistent focus.
That shouldn’t be a problem for either team in Friday’s highly anticipated matchup, which could end up hinging on what happens when the Eagles’ dangerous but mistake-prone offense gets the ball against an underrated Parkway defense. Although both coaches declined to look too far ahead, the winner should emerge as the clear favorite for a District 1-5A crown.