By Cody Futrell
First-year coach Bo Barton said Thursday following his Tallulah Academy Trojans’ final practice heading into the MAIS eight-man state championship game that he told his team when he was hired that they were “going to eat an elephant one piece at a time.”
The elephant in the room is MAIS powerhouse Christian Collegiate. The undefeated Bulldogs are the only thing standing between the Trojans and that elusive state championship. The teams meet at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi Thursday at 10 a.m.
Tallulah Academy (11-1) suffered its only loss of the year to CCA 46-38 on Sept. 25. The Bulldogs have gone undefeated this season but, like the Trojans, will be looking for redemption after falling to TA in the semifinals a year ago 56-39.
The first season under Barton, the former LHSAA head coach at Rayville and Caldwell, has been a continuation of great success for the Trojans.
Tallulah Academy reached the finals last year before losing to Sharkey-Issaquena Academy. It has been a stretch of 20 wins in 23 games since going to the eight-man football division in 2014.
Previous to that, the Trojans had only one winning season since 2004.
Barton, after more than 20 years as a high school football coach in Northeast Louisiana, will be seeking his first state championship.
“I came into a good situation where the kids were working hard and a coaching staff that has continued to work extremely hard,” Barton said.”
Barton said he tweaked some of his offensive and defensive philosophies to fit the eight-man game but the differences are small.
“The fundamentals of football stay the same,” Barton said. “Throwing and catching. Tackling — it stays the same there is just a lot more space.”
Barton had a unique system he decided to employ. It was something that would be an almost unheard of scenario in eight-man MAIS football. Barton decided to keep everyone on offense from the previous season where they were and bring up a new group of defensive players. This would involve being the only team in the league not playing a single player on both offense and defense.
“I came in telling people I was going to find a way to play good defense in the eight-man game,” Barton said. “I think if you put us out there today with the team that we were back then (losing to Christian Collegiate) in Week 4, that team couldn’t stay on the field with the team we have become today.”
The team has a plus-19 turnover margin this season while the offense has been dynamic. The Trojans have averaged 52.8 points per game and scored a total of 83 touchdowns in 2015.
The Trojans go into a big game atmosphere in a large stadium with a young defense, but that does not mean the team expects any wide eyes come kickoff.
“We have been in big atmospheres this year,” Barton said. “This is just the next game.”