First-year Walker High coach Chad Mahaffey wasn’t around for a first-hand account, but used the Wildcats regular-season finale last year at Central to illustrate a point.
The Wildcats were on the cusp of a highwater win-total mark, bringing with them eight wins on the road, the potential for a higher seed in the playoffs and were promptly handed a 35-21 defeat.
“That wasn’t one of Sid’s (Edwards’) best teams and it was one of Walker’s best teams and they still ended up losing that game,” Mahaffey said. “Those are easy lessons that our kids will remember. You know this can happen and you have to be ready.”
Such is life in rugged District 4-5A, which boasts two-time defending state champion Zachary where after that, life in the league can be unforeseen.
The league experienced a bit of a makeover in 2019 with the loss of Belaire moving down to Class 4A.
That in itself means there will be even less room for error in the six-team league, which sent all of its teams to postseason play in 2018.
For the third time in four years, Zachary carried the banner for the district, reeling off 10 straight wins and rallied to defeat top-seeded West Monroe, 27-24, behind quarterback Keilon Brown’s pass to wide receiver Chris Hilton, who sped 80 yards for the winning score.
Both players return with Brown the reigning Class 5A Offensive MVP.
The consensus among the trio of coaches from Livingston Parish is that until someone can unseat Zachary, the league’s members are still trying to catch the Broncos for district supremacy.
“You put Zachary at the top,” Live Oak’s fifth-year coach Brett Beard said. “We’ve got some good coaches and players in this district. Ideally, week in and week out, almost anybody can beat you.”
Denham Springs was the only other team outside of Zachary to advance in the playoffs, a development third-year coach Bill Conides credits to the strength of the league.
The Yellow Jackets upset No. 14 Sam Houston on the road before returning home and pushing state power Acadiana to the limit before falling, 38-37, late in the fourth quarter.
“Overall, it’s a very competitive district,” Conides said. “I’ve been places that once you got to district, things get easier. In this district, things get harder, and I think that’s a good stepping-stone into the playoffs. If you can beat our teams in this district, then you’re probably going to do pretty well in the playoffs.”
Zachary, which had a nearly 40-point margin of victory in district play, was a sterling example of that.
The Broncos began league play with a 38-9 home win over Walker and wound up winning their last 10 games of the season. They went on the road in successive weeks to win at Hahnville, Acadiana and Destrehan before claiming an instant classic against West Monroe in the Superdome.
“Everyone knows what they’ve done on the field,” Mahaffey said of Zachary.
Mahaffey may be new to the district but is quite familiar with Zachary.
While over the course of his nine-year tenure at University High, where the Cubs won three state championships, Mahaffey’s teams played against Zachary and were the last team to defeat the Broncos (49-27) last season.
Mahaffey and Zachary coach David Brewerton are both graduates of Catholic High and have coached together during their climb up the coaching ladder to their current head coaching positions.
Mahaffey said he’s also coached with Zachary assistant coaches Kenny Langlois, Chris Carrier and Gerry Garidel. He also spent a year on Edwards’ staff at Central as offensive coordinator in 2009.
“There are some friendships in the district,” Mahaffey said. “I have respect for all of them, even the guys that I don’t really know. There’s good coaches throughout.”
Scotlandville features its fourth head coach in five years with former Walker High coach Lester Ricard taking over for Jules Sullen, who directed the Hornets to a 4-6 record and first-round playoff exit.
Walker made quite a splash in hiring Mahaffey where he won 102 games and guided the Cubs to the last two Division II state crowns.
“Walker has a coach that knows how to prepare his team for the playoffs and play in postseason,” Conides said. “Chad’s got an excellent pedigree of putting kids in position to be successful.”
Beard said Mahaffey’s hiring was a shining example of the direction Livingston Parish’s football programs.
“That’s a great hire for our parish,” he said. “People don’t understand that we pull for each other except the week we play because it makes our parish look good. I’m pulling for him other than the week play them.
“Every team has gotten better every year, and that’s what makes this district so respectable and so much fun,” he said. “Anybody can just about beat anybody. Every game is a physical 5A game that’s worth watching.”