The 2019 prep football season gets underway tonight as Acadiana Christian, formerly known as Assembly Christian, opens the Association of Christian Educators of Louisiana against two-time defending ACEL champion Berchmans Academy at New Iberia Senior High at 7 p.m.
ACS, which changed its name this past spring, and head football coach Dwight Fage are hoping the new season can bring with it a new opportunity as the Lions look to end a streak of three straight playoff appearances and three straight semifinals losses.
“That’s been the most frustrating and disappointing aspect of the last three seasons,” Fage said. “Getting so close and not being able to get over the hump. It’s something that we’re definitely going to work on correcting this year.”
It’s a year of changes in the ACEL.
For openers, the league is down to five teams this season. In addition to ACS and Berchmans, John Paul the Great, Northeast Baptist and Southwest Louisiana Homeschool will compete for the four playoff spots.
In past seasons, there has been as many as eight teams in the ACEL and Fage said that could be just a one year flux for the league.
“I went to a meeting last week and there are at least four new teams entering the league in 2020 and there could even be a fifth team, we’re not sure about that right now,” Fage said.
But for this season, each team will play a home-and-home schedule to give each school eight games,
ACS hits the road the next two weeks to play Southwest Louisiana Homeschool and Northeast Baptist before returning home to play John Paul the Great in three weeks.
Fage feels that this year’s version of the Lions, despite losing five seniors to graduation last year, could be a team that finally breaks through the semifinal jinx.
“I have some players back and I’m relying a lot of Wyatt (Deselle) as a second-year starter at quarterback to kind of take the reins and go,” Fage said. “I think that his decision-making has gotten better and he’s been better at making the reads that need to be made.”
Deselle threw for more than 1,300 yards last season and 12 touchdowns but also had a few interceptions at key points in the games that Fage hopes will not happen this year.
“I kind of had to revamp my offensive line a little bit but I have Elijah Holman back and he ran for 400 yards last year Gabe Boudreaux had 700 yards receiving last year. I moved him to fullback this year,” Fage said.
So while the Lions are bring some players back from last year’s semifinal team, the rest of the league is bringing some key players back as well.
Fage said that Berchmans has won 25 games in a row in the league, John Paul the Great loads up their veer offense every year, Southwest Louisiana Homeschool has some athletes returning from last season and even Northeast Baptist returns some key players.
“All we can do is take it one game at a time and load up and play them,” Fage said.
One thing that has worked in the Lions’ favor, according to the coach, is the fact that his team has worked very hard during the spring and summer and that this version of the ACS football team may be the fastest that he’s had.
“The thing that I’ve been pleased with as the difference in team speed from last year to this year has been incredible,” Fage said. “It’t no contest how fast we are, compared to last year.”
One last thing that’s different this year is that the Lions will play their home games at New Iberia Senior High this year. Fage said that there was trouble with the lights at their school and that NISH principal Curt Landry was very hospitable so that ACS would have a place to play.
About the only thing that will work against the Lions this season is the fact that there are only 10 players on the roster. For 8-man football, that means there’s not a lot of depth.
“We may not have a lot of depth but I’ve had teams were we had 15 players but only eight could play,” Fage said. “At least with these 10 I know that all can play so if we can stay heathy we should be in line for a good season.”