Mansfield’s tough schedule prepared Wolverines for tough trip to Sterlington

Mansfield running back TJ Pegues bolts through the Lakeview defense during a Week 8 win.
CREDIT: Kevin Shannahan/The Journal

By Matt Vines, DeSoto Parish Journal

STERLINGTON – Mansfield has just about seen it all this season. Road trips to pass-happy Evangel Christian and Ouachita Christian. Near upsets of a super athletic Huntington squad and a brutally physical Logansport bunch. And a date with a reigning state champion in Many. So when the No. 18 Wolverines (6-5) load up the bus to head to No. 2 Sterlington for Thursday’s second-round playoff matchup in Division III Select, Mansfield will be prepared. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

“We have played teams this year that prepare us for a team like Sterlington,” said Mansfield coach Darrell Barbay. “Sterlington is really good, but our kids have seen some really good teams this year.” But what faces the Wolverines is a Sterlington (9-1) crew that’s won nine straight games and might be the toughest opponent to date.

After a season-opening loss to West Monroe, Sterlington can count blowout wins against Mangham and Wossman as well as tighter wins against Oak Grove and Union Parish on its till. Those latter four teams either won their first-round playoff game or received a bye. The Panthers also won the Class 3A championship in 2021.

But Mansfield is riding high after recording its first playoff win since 2018 when the Wolverines knocked off No. 15 Marksville, 34-28, in the first round of the playoffs. Meaty running back TJ Pegues plowed into the end zone with just 22 seconds left to lift the Wolverines to a 34-28 victory. Pegues rushed for three touchdowns and 121 yards while Rykeelin Vanzant paced the powerful Mansfield rushing attack with 152 yards and a score.

“Our kids never gave up,” Barbay said. “We had to overcome a lot, and it shows what type of character these kids have.”

Character is what powered Mansfield through an 0-4 start against those state powerhouses, and the Wolverines rallied to win six of their last seven games including the playoff victory. Mansfield won its last four regular-season games by at least 20 points in one of the deeper districts in Class 2A, which included a 42-20 drubbing of a solid Red River team.

The first-round playoff win is a crown jewel of what Barbay has accomplished at Mansfield in his second season. The Wolverines learned tough lessons in an 0-6 start to the 2022 season before winning three of their last four regular-season games to keep its playoff appearance streak intact. Now that Mansfield has a playoff win under its belt, it’ll attempt to knock off a Class 3A giant on the road.

“A lot of building a program is getting kids to trust us as a coaching staff and buying into the program,” Barbay said. “Our kids work hard and do what we ask of them at practice every day. That’s really all you can ask of them – to keep working and get stronger. Our administration has backed us and helped us get the things we need to get better. Our principals, school board and superintendent have been outstanding in this process as well.”