North Webster head coach John Ware is a realist. You have to be, at this stage in the game.
“I’m always honest,” Ware said. “I’m more about the back end of the year than the beginning. As a coach, you don’t get too up or too down based off games early in the season. You can get too dissappointed and ruin the season before you get to the good part.”
The Knights are at the good part now. After beating St. James last week in Springhill, North Webster will travel to Iota tonight to take on the undefeated, top-ranked team in the state.
Last week’s win over St. James was a magical scene. But the season hasn’t always been so positive for the Knights.
They started off the year 0-2 after starting quarterback Tyrell Markray went down with a knee injury in pre-season. When Markray returned, the Knights rattled off three straight wins, including a massive rivalry win on the road at Minden.
Then, the Knights came up against a high-flying offense in Logansport that wasn’t the best matchup for North Webster.
The Knights had sustained injuries to their secondary, and Logansport passed all over them en route to a 34-14 victory.
The next week, they traveled to Airline. I was in the stands that night in Bossier. After the first quarter, you could tell that Ware was just trying to get out of the stadium alive.
“We were beat up and banged on against Airline,” Ware said. “We had our second unit in there in the second half and they beat us up good.”
The next week, the Knights came back to work.
“We knew that we had St. Mary’s the next week,” Ware said. “At that point, we knew if we could win out, we would get a home playoff game. The guys came in and went to work.”
Ware said they settled into their lineup against St. Mary’s. North Webster won that game 36-7, and then beat Green Oaks in a shootout the next week.
After winning the district championship at Loyola the following week, the Knights were hitting their stride.
“We settled into who we are and what we are,” Ware said.
Who are they?
North Webster is a team led by a massive, strong defensive line who won’t let you run on them.
They are an explosive offense who rely on chemistry and making the right play at the right time.
They have tons of talent, but the reason they are successful comes down to leaning into their identity.
“This team, they don’t have any quit in them,” Ware said.
They struggle against great passers and quarterbacks who creep out of the pocket and move around.
Offensively, they have been at their best when they get the ball in the hands of Eddie Rollen and Scottie Johnson.
Recently, they have been scoring the ball a lot. The 26 points they scored against St. James was their lowest output since the loss at Airline, and that was against a St. James team renowned for their stifling defense.
Nobody knows what to expect against Iota. There isn’t much to go off in terms of history or mutual opponents.
“They’re undefeated and confident in what they’re doing,” Ware said. “But we’re confident too.”
That’s the most important part. Ware has been here before. In 2013 and 2014, Ware took North Webster deep into the playoffs with Devin White in tow. At this point in the playoffs, nobody is just happy to be there.
The Knights haven’t been on the road much this season. They went into a hostile environment at Minden and won, but that was early in the season.
Going on the road to the best team in the state will be different, but Ware isn’t too concerned.
“If you can’t get up to play this game, I don’t know what to tell ya.”
I don’t think the players will have any problem getting up to go play. They certainly won’t be intimidated either.
North Webster has beaten 5A schools on down. They aren’t afraid to play the big boys.
One of my favorite pictures I took this season was from the Airline game. On the kickoff return, Scottie Johnson has the ball and is looking for a hole. He’s flanked by a blocker, who has the biggest ominous grin on his face. The kid was not big, but he couldn’t have been more excited to go find someone to hit.
That moment encompasses this North Webster team. Competing at a high level is fun to them. Hitting people hard is exciting. They know their roles. They just want to go play.