September 24, 2007

Junior showdown in Louisiana

WEST MONROE, La. -- All the pieces were in place for a huge game on Friday night in Northern Louisiana: Two district rivals, separated by only a few miles, high-profile prospects on both sides of the ball and two teams with realistic state championship aspirations were all on hand.

When West Monroe hosted Ouachita, the pre-game atmosphere was more akin to SEC football than high school football as the crowd had to resort to "standing room only" well before kickoff. Though West Monroe came into the game undefeated and unchallenged after three games, the Lions were 2-1 with enough talent to give West Monroe a true test.

Despite a back-and-forth first half, the 55-23 final score was an accurate reflection of West Monroe's win over a talented but overmatched Ouachita team.

Junior night: From the perspective of, the matchup had potential to be a showdown between top juniors. Both Montrell Conner of Ouachita and D.J. Banks of West Monroe were targeted as two of's 100 to watch in the class of 2009.

After the first quarter, it looked like the showdown might play out perfectly.

Banks struck first between the two juniors, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown reception early in the first quarter, but Conner would respond.

With Ouachita's running back Chris Brown out of the game after the first series with an injury, the bulk of the rushing load was thrust on the shoulders of Conner and he responded.

The 6-foot-2 athlete was physically impressive running the ball and he gave the Rebels all they could handle. After an 86-yard interception return put West Monroe up 13-0, Conner powered a hard-nosed drive that he capped off with a 34-yard TD run.

Banks then responded once again on the ensuing kickoff with a 60-yard return. But Banks wouldn't be heard from for much of the rest of the night.

Banks, who is a transfer from St. Frederick High School, a 2A school in Monroe, La., hasn't been as dominating on the 5A level. He has been playing primarily a slot receiver and kick-returner for the Rebels and was very much a secondary option on Friday night behind a very productive power rushing attack. He has loads of talent and potential, but at this point in his junior year he is more of a projection with the limited touches he has been receiving.

Conner, however, was very impressive in a losing effort. Standing every bit of 6-2, the junior is not a natural running back but has potential at any number of positions including linebacker, wide receiver or safety. He ended the day with 132 yards on 20 carries and gave the Lions an opportunity to stay in the game.

Tough night for Edwards: Four-star tight end Trent Edwards had a frustrating night for Ouachita. The Rivals250 member could never get on track despite repeated efforts by his coaches to get him the ball.

A swarming West Monroe defense limited his production and the only way he was able to get the ball was on a number of different screen passes, quick hitters and misdirection plays, none of which accounted for more than a couple yards. At one point in the first quarter, Edwards was targeted in the redzone on a throwback pass that was intercepted and returned 86 yards to the house.

The West Monroe defense should be credited for shutting down the tight end who holds offers from schools such as Alabama, LSU, Miami and Nebraska.

Unheralded seniors: Despite the big name juniors on the field and four-star Tyler Edwards, the show-stealers on the night were two under-the-radar seniors. Running back Ladarius Abrams opened the night with a spectacular 44-yard run and didn't slow down all night. He finished the night with 16 carries for 149 yards, all well-earned.

A big chunk of those yards wouldn't have come if not for the blocking of his fullback, Don Brown. Brown, a powerfully compact fullback, was punishing as a blocker and as a runner, opening up holes all night. Brown also carried the ball 14 times for 146 yards, the majority of which came with multiple defenders riding his back. Adding three touchdowns to his line, Brown was easily the best player on the field that night.

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