WALKER -- When pride gets tested not just once, but twice in a row, a proud football team that possesses lofty goals is bound to be a little emotionally wounded.
Makes sense then that Walker took a trip back to the basics this week to re-establish a foundation for the four-week stretch run to the 2017 season.
Off to an 0-2 start in District 4-5A play after lopsided losses to perennial powers Scotlandville and Zachary, the Wildcats (3-3) begin the process of getting back on track at 7 p.m. Thursday when Belaire visits Wildcat Stadium.
For the first four weeks this season, the Walker defense was rock-solid, allowing only 237 yards and 12.3 points a game. With an offense in flux – first with a young quarterback and a revamped offensive line and then with a revolving door behind center because of an injury to starter Ethan McMasters – the Wildcats’ defense was a major reason why they won three of those first four contests.
Since then … well, it’s been like the clock struck midnight and Walker’s carriage turned into a pumpkin.
Scotlandville and Zachary have combined for 91 points, 745 yards and two lopsided victories over the Wildcats. Walker fell behind 25-0 against the Hornets before denting the scoreboard and surrendered 21 first-quarter points to the Broncos.
“We’ve got to get more physical and come out with the right mindset as soon as the game starts,” WHS defensive tackle Jerome Wilson said. “We just have to train harder and push each other more to make sure we’re getting better. We’ve lost these two games, but we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Cats’ coach Lester Ricard was more succinct.
“The last few weeks, we’ve lost our swagger on defense and we have to get it back,” he said. “Our point of emphasis hasn’t changed at all from Day 1 because we believe we have a very stout defense. But somewhere along the line our mindset did change. We need to seal up that crack and get back to being a dominant defensive football team.”
To address that, Ricard and his coaches put their team through more physical paces early in the week.
Practices began with 30 minutes of physical contact and the focus on little things was prominent.
“We have to get our mental toughness back as much as anything else,” linebacker Ke’Andre Ventress said. “We lost our starting quarterback, and since then the offense has been trying to find its identity. When we’ve gotten down a couple points, we’ve lost our mental focus and we can’t do that.
“It’s the little things we have to do better and that will make us more successful as a team.”
For the fourth week in a row, the Walker quarterback situation remains murky. McMasters will miss another week, with a trip to the doctor scheduled Monday that could yield clearance to return against Denham Springs High on Oct. 20.
In the meantime, Ricard said freshman Christian Ard will get his second straight start. Walker’s first-year coach kicked up some controversy after the loss to Zachary when he was critical of the quarterbacks trying to fill the gap, but he said this week is words were meant as tough love, saying the Wildcats have some deficiencies because of youth, inexperience and toughness – not talent and desire.
“Christian Ard is an incredible talent who is going to have a great future, but it’s difficult for any freshman to play at this level,” Ricard said.
It’s been difficult for Belaire to compete at the 5A level as well this fall.
The Bengals got caught in an enrollment shuffle when the LHSAA redistricted and they landed back in 4-5A when the school is barely a 4A school now population-wise after a large group of students returned back to Istrouma after that school was remodeled.
In three district losses, Belaire has allowed 157 points, with each of the three games going to a running clock for most of the second half because the foe was up by 45 or more points. The Bengals have generated only 385 total yards in those three games.
Those struggles lay the potential groundwork for a Walker bounceback this week, but Ricard and his players head into the game focused on improving.
“The last two weeks, (Scotlandville and Zachary) came out with fire and we didn’t match them,” Ventress said. “We’ve got to get that back. We want the offense to know we’ve got their back no matter what.
“We still control our own destiny but we have to start one game at a time.”
Added Ricard, “We’ve got to get back to playing Wildcat football. We can’t win the last four games without winning the first one. We feel like if we can put some points on the scoreboard early, that’s going to help the defense play a whole lot better.”
GAMEDAY | Belaire (1-5, 0-3 District 4-5A) at Walker (3-3, 0-2)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Wildcat Stadium | Walker
TV: Cox Cable channel 117 (MeTv)
LIVESTREAM: Wildcat TV (walkerhigh.org/kwhs-live), Facebook Live
Scotlandville 55, Belaire 12
Zachary 45, Walker 21
NAMES TO KNOW
Belaire -- Sr. QB Travon Myles, So. WR Joseph Johnson, Sr. DE Kameron Dukes
Walker -- Fr. QB Christian Ard, Sr. WR Darrius Hampton, Sr. OL Jason Lockhart, Jr. LB Ke’Andre Ventress, Sr. DE Avery Smith
MOVING THE CHAINS
• The last time Walker and Belaire met was 2006 when the Bengals prevailed 14-7 in a non-district game. The Wildcats edged Belaire 13-6 the season before.
• In the losses to Scotlandville and Zachary, three of the Wildcats’ touchdowns have covered 35 yards or more.
• Even with a pair of breakthrough wins in 4-5A last fall, Walker has lost 30 of its last 32 league games since a 50-15 rout of Live Oak in 2011.
• Since McMasters left the game at Slidell with a broken collarbone, the Wildcats’ passing game has deteriorated: 20-for-64 for only 392 yards.
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 610.5507 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta | @LPN_Sports | @LPNews1898