Evangel senior defensive lineman Jammerio Gross remembers the last time he and the No. 2 Eagles (11-2) lost a game at Rodney Duron Field.
It was Week 4 of the 2010 season, a heartbreaking 20-19 loss to St. Thomas More.
“I remember it well, losing by one point. We were all disappointed and knew that we could have won it,” said Gross, who was a sophomore at the time. “Our home crowd is amazing, and I love this field and playing in front of our fans.”
Gross doesn’t want a loss to No. 3 University Lab (12-1) tonight in the 2A semifinals to become final memory of playing in Shreveport.
“It took a while to get over that loss to St. Thomas More,” Gross said. “If we can win Friday, it will feel amazing. My family will be out there shouting and yelling for me and the team. I just want to make them proud and get us back in the Dome.”
A little more than an hour northeast, No. 2 Haynesville (10-2), the only other area team left in the playoffs, will also play a home game with a trip to a state championship in New Orleans on the line.
“We are certainly glad to be here in Haynesville for this game,” said Haynesville coach David Franklin, whose team will host No. 6 West St. John (9-3) in the 1A semifinals. “I think the last time we had a home semifinal game was in 1996. People are excited for us to be playing here, and I do think it’s an advantage. We’re at home, and they have to ride a bus.”
While Evangel has won 17 straight games in its home stadium, Haynesville hasn’t been dominant at home. The Golden Tornado’s two losses this season, to Peabody in Week 2 and Natchitoches Central in Week 5, came at home.
“And West St. John travels well,” Franklin said. “They are used to going on the road and winning big games.”
Haynesville lost 15-8 at home in the quarterfinals last season, to the same West St. John team making the same trip to north Louisiana again this season.
“The trip from (down by New Orleans) didn’t faze them last year,” Franklin said. “And they might be a little bit better this year. They are big, physical and very fast. They are everything you want in a football team.
“We’ve had a good week of practice, and everyone is a little nervous, because we understand that this is a good football team coming up here. But that’s the way it should be when you play in the semifinals. And looking at the bracket, I think we are playing one of the best in the state right now.”
During Haynesville’s championship run in 2009, the Golden Tornado beat St. John 26-0 on the road in the semifinals. Evangel beat St. James on the road in the semifinals in 2008 and won two straight home semifinal games in 2009 and 2010 but lost 38-6 in the semis at John Curtis last season.
“We’ve got a pretty good track record at home in the semifinals,” Evangel coach Phillip Deas said. “So I think it’s a big advantage.”
In last season’s semifinal games, home teams were 6-4. In the past five years, home teams have a slight edge in the semifinals with a 29-21 advantage with a trip to New Orleans up for grabs.
But no matter the records or win streaks, playing at home can be an advantage.
“It’s special to have that last game here on your home field,” Deas said. “I’m so glad it worked out that way. Our guys get one more chance to play here in a big game, just run out and play on this field one more time.”
Franklin also expects his players to draw energy from the home fans.
“We’re expecting a huge crowd, and it’s encouraging for the guys to look up and see that,” he said. “It has to give you a little boost.”
Both games will be special for the seniors involved as well, a final home game for a trip to the Dome.
“I’m so excited for my last game at home,” Evangel senior quarterback Dakota Duron said. “I love playing here. Everytime we play a big game, it just feels right to play it here at home. It means everything.”
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08.