Orangefield preview: Bobcats seek fifth straight playoff berth

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, August 30, 2017

ORANGEFIELD — Making the playoffs for the fourth straight season last year, the longest streak in school history, the Orangefield Bobcats will look to continue their winning ways in 2017.

Orangefield has made the playoffs every year since 2013 after going through a 10-year drought.

In 2016, the Bobcats went down to the last week in District 12-4A Division II play with a chance to snare the outright title before falling to eventual state champion West Orange-Stark.

The Bobcats (5-6) went on to finish in a three-way tie for second-place and bowed out to eventual 4A Region III Division II semifinalist Bellville in the bidistrict round of the playoffs.

The cupboard is far from bare for Coach Josh Smalley and Co. as six starters return on each side of the ball.

“It has been the best summer we’ve ever had here since I’ve been here,” said Smalley as he heads into his sixth season. “We would have about 100 boys show up on days during the summer, which was amazing. Our numbers are up, looks like we’re going to have three complete teams this year, with a freshman team. We couldn’t be more happier about that.”

As usual for most teams, several key figures must be replaced but Smalley likes the younger talent the Bobcats have coming up to fill major roles.

Two quarterbacks will likely see time early on in Mason Gonzales and Christian Louvier. Gonzales played some at quarterback last season while also making All-District on the defensive line while Louvier had solid moments playing at tailback in the Bobcats’ vaunted Slot T offense.

“Both of those guys are really capable of getting the job done,” said Smalley. “They both contribute in so many ways and both will see time on defense as well. Mason was a all-district defensive end last year and Christian played well as a running back. We have a good mix with those two for sure.”

The Bobcats will look to find some depth at running back after losing First Team All-District tailback Christopher McGee, who had nearly 1,200 yards last year.

Blake Bradley, who was a First Team All-District linebacker, will look to help at fullback along with Kadeon Evans, Heston Puckettt and Quy Tsan.

Zach Dischler, an all-district defensive back and Kayson Dubois will see time at halfback. The tailback spot will likely feature the likes of Dylan Williams. Clayson Choate and Chase Broussard.

“We have a host of backs that we’re going to count on,” said Smalley. “We may not have what you would call a bell cow at this moment but they’re all working hard, plus they will all help us on defense as well.”

When the Bobcats put it in the air, they’ll look for tight end Aaron Gordon and split ends Blake Deloach, David Ochoa and Chaz Laird.

Michael Teeples, First Team All-District at tight end last year, will move to the guard spot this year with fellow veteran Brett Fregia at the other guard. All-district tackle Aaron Galitz is back as well and will be a strong anchor.

Other linemen expected to make impacts are centers Jonah Landry and David Fear along with tackles Joseph Auer, Luke Padilla and Kent Michael.

Six starters bring back key experience to pace the defensive effort.

The Bobcats will have nice size in the defensive trenches as well.

Spending time at along the defensive front will be Gonzales, Deloach, Auer and Dubois while the tackles will be Landry, Galitz, Teeples and Fregia.

Bradley will man middle linebacker while Evans will be at Sam linebacker and Wiliams at the other linebacker with depth provided by Michael, Gordon and Puckett.

Dischler, who was so superb in 2016, sparks the secondary from his strong safety spot as the only starter back. Those expected to fill in with a nice impact include Broussard, Laird, Tsan, Dubois, Louvier and Choate.

“It’s going to be a grind for us for sure because we know we’re going to have guys playing both ways a lot,” said Smalley. “We don’t have a huge senior group this year but they’re providing excellent leadership. We’re counting on eight or nine sophomores to really make an impact for us, we’re going to need those guys to step up.”

Of course, another big weapon for the Bobcats is that have arguably the top kicker back in 12-4A in all-district selection Jacob Rainey.

The Bobcats will crank up their season on the road Sept. 1 against long-time rival Buna in a good non-district slate that also includes Kirbyville, Woodville, LC-M, Beaumont Kelly and Diboll.

“Buna is such a rival for us and Kirbyville always gives us fits,” said Smalley. “Woodville was a super team last year and has some athletes. LC-M has twice the enrollment we do so that’s going to be a tough one again. Kelly plays us well and Coach (Blake) Morrison and Diboll will be looking forward to coming in here after we beat them up there last year. It’s a tough schedule for sure, six non-district games are a lot but it will certainly get us ready for district. The big key for us is to stay healthy while we’re doing it.”

Orangefield will kick off 12-4A Division I play at home Oct. 13 against Liberty, followed by Hamshire-Fannett, Hardin-Jefferson and WO-S.

“Obviously West Orange-Stark is the favorite, some say they may be down but tell that to the rest of the district, we know what WO-S has and they have amazing young athletes and a great staff,” said Smalley. “Liberty, they lost a couple key backs but they’re ready to reload with some athletes that went three playoff rounds and have a lot of other kids back. Hardin-Jefferson went two rounds in the playoffs and have plenty of kids back. Fannett should be much improved. I know we just have a five-team district but it’s very competitive and I think the Bobcats will definitely compete, that’s what it is all about.”