WATSON – Live Oak’s secondary didn’t wait several weeks into the season to provide the answer their coaching staff and observers of the program were looking for.
With three new starters for a defensive unit with tremendous promise, the quartet of cornerbacks Darian Ricard and Kade Lane, along with safeties Aiden Saunders and Colin Dickerson, delivered an emphatic response to offseason and preseason questions surrounding their capability this season.
They literally started at the top of the mountain in terms of challenges, performing admirably against Ponchatoula’s 6-foot-6 senior quarterback T.J. Finley, an LSU commitment, and helping the Eagles register a convincing 35-14 victory going into Friday’s home game with Woodlawn at 7 p.m.
“It starts with the friendship, the four of us are very close,” said Lane, one of the first-year starters. “Communication wise, it’s very good. We know what we’re doing out there.”
Live Oak’s collaborative effort between the pressure created by its front three and the coverage efforts of the linebackers and secondary provided a successful formula for a defense motivated to make an early-season statement.
The Eagles had faced against Finley the past two summers during the Baton Rouge area 7-on-7 passing league, making them well aware of his arm talent and potential for delivering the home run ball.
Finley, a 250-pounder and the nation’s No. 10 ranked pro-style passer according to 247Sports.com, completed 10-of-27 passes for 99 yards with two interceptions by Ricard and linebacker Bret McCoy with no passing touchdowns.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way our DBs handled that stage and the way they battled going against a kid (Finley) of that magnitude,” Live Oak coach Brett Beard said. “We issued that challenge back in the summer starting with 7-on-7. These are the kind of games you want to play in.
“If you’re a DB and people have question marks about you,” Beard said, “what better way to sure that up and give people confidence than to cover those dudes Ponchatoula had, and with a guy like that pulling the trigger.”
After a subpar performance the week before in the jamboree against West Jefferson’s passing game, Lane said it was a matter of returning the practice field with a mindset of getting better to face arguably their toughest test in defending Finley this season.
“As a whole as DBs, we’re smaller than most of the guys,” he said. “Every day at practice you’ve just got to work hard and work at it. You watch film and know what they’re doing. Our scrimmage didn’t go that well. We missed some tackles, let some guys get by and they caught some big balls. We didn’t allow any touchdowns against Finley and that felt good on our part.”
Lane and his head coach were both quick to credit the play of the defensive front of Tyler Braun, Kyle Kitto and Jalen Lee, an LSU commitment, for their ability to effect Finley with their pressure.
The Eagles picked up a total of five sacks, four of which were courtesy of Lee, and compiled a total of 10 tackles of losses that didn’t allow Finley to get comfortable in the pocket where he could set his feet and deliver passes on time.
It was the fourth time in his 21-game career that Finley didn’t throw a touchdown and his 99-yard output marked the fifth time he was threw for under 100 yards in a game.
“We wanted to mix it up and give them different looks, I thought we did a good job,” Beard said. “It goes back to the front. You’re able to get pressure with three and four guys and play zone behind it. You’re able to get pressure with four, five and six guys and play man behind it. It’s one of the finest games I’ve seen our DBs play and probably more so because of the question marks going into it.”
Said Lane: "That (pressure from the front) definitely helped out a lot. Our coaches stressed that to put pressure on him and that wouldn’t put as much pressure on us because he couldn’t get the ball off. The guy can throw the ball wherever he wants. He just needs a little bit of space.”
Live Oak simply caught fire in the second half after being deadlocked at 14-all at halftime.
Quarterback Rhett Rosevear capped an eight-play drive with a 25-yard TD pass to Trennon O’Quinn and Brandon Williamson’s recovery of the ensuing onside kick resulted in Hagan Long’s 31-yard TD and 28-14 lead, a margin that more than held up with the way the Eagles defense was playing.
“When you’re up like that it doesn’t put as much stress on you and allows you to play better,” Lane said. “You can just go out there and play free. Just go out and be yourself.”