WATSON - Live Oak heads into postseason play in a familiar position, only the circumstances are slightly different this time around.
The Eagles (5-5) are the No. 30 seed, travelling to No. 3 Acadiana (9-1).
Last year Live Oak finished the regular season with the exact same record and received the No. 22 seed, and promptly pulled off consecutive upsets over No. 10 Sulphur (23-10) and No. 6 East Ascension (34-26).
One main difference this year is the Eagles enter the playoffs winning once in their last five games, compared to a red-hot finish to the 2017 season with three straight wins.
Live Oak coach Brett Beard isn’t too worried about what their resume’ looks like, however. His Eagles are in the playoffs for the fourth straight season and the only thing that matters is winning their next game.
“We are where we want to be,” Beard said. “Our state of mind is right where we want it to be going into a tournament where there is no tomorrow.… You just have to start another (winning) streak. And what better time than to do it in the playoffs when everything is on the line?”
“We’re just trying to find a way to flip the script,” said senior defensive back Eli Johnson, a McNeese State commitment. “It’s definitely a different feeling from last year. Last year, we were coming in hot after we had a losing streak, but then we were winning. Now it’s flipped and we’re coming in where we left off with Acadiana.”
Shuffling into the postseason with a .500 record, and travelling as a lower-seeded team, may appear to be daunting task for many teams at Louisiana’s highest classification, but perhaps no team in the state has better embraced the underdog role as well as Live Oak.
The Eagles have continued to raise their own expectations and bloom as a program, but under Beard the underdog mentality has been the identity of the program shared by fans and players alike.
Their success in the 2017 playoffs as the longshot only gives them more confidence heading to Acadiana, a four-time state champion.
“We’re not anywhere we haven’t been,” Beard said. “This isn’t unfamiliar ground, this isn’t new to us. This is something that really Live Oak has started to embrace the last four years. We have relished in the underdog role.”
Live Oak is familiar with Acadiana. It was the Rams who reached into their bag of tricks and pulled out a halfback pass midway through the fourth quarter to end the Eagles’ Cinderella run in the quarterfinals with a 17-14 win.
The Rams have undergone a coach change with Ted Davidson’s retirement, but there hasn’t been a hint of a drop off with first-year coach Matt McCullough, whose 9-1 team has only dropped a 31-30 decision to Comeaux on a last-second field goal.
Live Oak, which turned the ball over four times in last week’s 24-14 loss to Holy Cross, is aware that it must remedy their tendency to turn the ball.
For the Eagles to find success against Acadiana, they need to win time of possession battle, thus limiting Acadiana’s offensive possessions, take care of the ball and finish drives with points.
“That’s what makes this fun,” Beard said. “The best team wins. We’re not going to go in with all the talent in the world. We just have 11 guys at one time wanting to man up and do their job. The challenge and the excitement is getting common dudes to do uncommon things.”
“We’re familiar with how they’re going to play,” Johnson said. “We played them already. Some of us are used to it, we have a couple of guys back on defense. We feel like we have a good scheme this year. We have some new things for them.”
Beard realizes that even after his program’s first state quarterfinal appearance a year ago, Live Oak must still defeat team such as Acadiana to be mentioned among the state’s upper-tier teams.
“For us to be mentioned in that top tier, Acadiana is a team we’re going to have to beat eventually,” Beard added. “We’ll have to get over that hump.”
An upset win over the Rams won’t absolve the Eagles’ 2017 quarterfinal loss, but it can provide a sense of closure for the program.
“We get to make a lot of things right for a lot of people in this program that were close to us last year,” Beard said. “That’s exciting to them and it’s exciting to us.”
Said Johnson, “A lot of my good friends were on that team last year. They had their career ended by Acadiana. I feel like that would be avenging them if we beat Acadiana.”