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No. 8 Vandebilt aims to upset No. 1 Neville


The Vandebilt Catholic Terriers will face the top-seeded Neville Tigers in Friday's Class 4A quarterfinal playoff game in Monroe. (Photo by Chris Heller/Staff)


Longtime professional wrestler Ric Flair is known for a famous saying that goes, "To be the man, you've got to beat the man."

If Vandebilt Catholic's football team wants to move a step closer to becoming a state champion this year, it will have to beat the best team in the Class 4A on Friday to do it.

The Terriers, who are seeded eighth in the playoffs, will travel to Monroe to play the defending Class 4A state champion and No. 1-seed Neville in a quarterfinal showdown at 7 p.m. Friday.

Vandebilt coach Brad Villavaso said the Terriers (11-1 overall) will face a monumental challenge on Friday against 11-0 Neville, a team that just completed its second straight undefeated regular season. But he believes the Terriers, winners of 11 straight games, are prepared to play with the Tigers.

"We believe we are a good football team," Villavaso said. "I think we've got a good chance. We're going to go up there and play the game. Hopefully we'll cut down on some of the mistakes we've been making and see what happens."

Friday's game will be a showdown between two of the state's top senior quarterbacks in Neville's John Diarse and Vandebilt's Elijah McGuire.

Diarse, a LSU commit, is a multitalented player who has created big plays with his arm (75-of-119; 1,172 pass yards, 14 TDs, three INTs) and with his legs (1,018 rush yards, 17 TDs) this season.

McGuire, who led the state in rushing with 2,094 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, said the Terriers know they will be huge underdogs on Friday, but they are excited about the opportunity to play Neville. Using a quote from rapper Meek Mill's song "Big Dreams," McGuire said the Terriers must play with confidence if they want to beat Neville on Friday.

"We know a lot of people are thinking we're underdogs and saying we can't win, but I've been waiting on this day for a long time," McGuire said. "We've been talking about playing against Neville since our first day of summer workouts, and it's finally here. We've got to make it happen and shock the world. I think we're ready."

Neville, which defeated No. 32 St. Louis, 40-0, in the bi-district round and No. 17 Breaux Bridge, 41-21, in the regionals, has averaged 252.4 rush yards per game this season. After Diarse, they have several big weapons in running backs Salarrious Jones and Thor Lowens and receivers Andre Fuller, Will Watson and Kavonte Turpin.

However, Villavaso said it all begins and ends with Diarse, who gets most of his big runs on spread read option plays. Villavaso said Diarse's style is similar to how McGuire runs the Terriers' offense.

Vandebilt will try to counter Neville's explosive offense with several of its key defenders, which include senior linebacker Colby Guillory, junior linebacker Tristan Guillory and junior safety Jordan Bergeron, who grabbed the game-winning interception in Vandebilt's 20-15 regional round win over Franklin Parish last week.

"Defensively, we've got to play our gaps and hope we can slow (Diarse) down a little bit," Villavaso said. "There ain't no stopping him. It's just one of those things you just can't do. You've just got to try to slow him down a little bit and make them work for everything they get and keep them out of the end zone if you can."

Neville's defense has been stingy this season, allowing only nine points per game. The Tigers, who are coached by Mickey McCarty, have pitched two shutouts this year and most of their points allowed have come on its second-team defense in blowout wins.

Villavaso said he is counting on his offense to continue racking up yardage from McGuire, fullback Aaron Smith, receiver Holden Bourne and tight end Chase Hutchinson.

"We've scored a lot points and complied a lot of offense this year, but when you get to the Top 8 teams in the playoffs, it's not going to be a home run every play," Villavaso said. "You've got to work for everything you get. You've got to scratch. You've got to fight. You've got to strain your body to do all those things to win. I think the guys understand that, and I think they will play well together Friday night."

With a four-hour trip to Monroe awaiting, Villavaso said the Terriers will hit the road on Thanksgiving Day and spend the night in Monroe.

"I just thought it would be better for us to get up there a day early and get away from the holiday scene and get the guys focusing on football," Villavaso said. "Hopefully it is the recipe to beat the No. 1 team in the state. I think our guys, coaches and everybody that's affiliated with our program really believes we can go up there and play well and do really good against a good football. If we do all the things we are capable of doing, hopefully we will have a chance to beat them."

Despite all the distractions during Thanksgiving Day week, McGuire believes the Terriers will handle it well and give it their best on Friday.

"It's all about this football game," McGuire said. "This is very important. We've got to go on the road on the holidays and handle our business. All we have to do is go out, play our hardest, make something happen and just shock the world."

NOTES

Friday’s playoff game can be heard on 106.3-FM and 1490-AM … Vandebilt, which beat Huntington (bi-district) and Franklin Parish (regionals) in its first two games, is playing in its first quarterfinal playoff game since 2007, where it lost to Benton, 28-17 ... Villavaso said Smith, who left the game with an injury last week, will play ... The winner of Friday's game will face the No. 21 McDonogh 35/No. 4 Teurlings Catholic winner in the Class 4A semifinals next week .