On the surface, it appeared the Catholic-New Iberia football team was perfectly set up for a dramatic, come-from-behind win in the Division III select state title game Friday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic.
But for coach Brent Indest, the writing might as well have been on the wall after Calvary Baptist drilled a go-ahead field goal with 2:48 remaining.
“We had a long way to go with not enough time,” Indest said. “Don’t get me wrong: I’ve got a (Southeastern Conference) quarterback here, but … everybody knows the only way to beat these guys is running the ball.”
With so little time remaining, the Panthers had to abandon the offense that had kept them in the game against what Indest repeatedly called a physically superior team. After a short completion on first down, the Panthers’ comeback attempt fizzled with three straight fumbles, allowing the Cavaliers to hang on for a 27-24 lead and their second straight state title.
Calvary took over at the Panthers’ 8-yard line and ran out the final 56 seconds to seal the win.
The anticlimactic ending didn’t fit what was an otherwise exciting back-and-forth contest between teams with some history. The Cavaliers knocked Catholic out of the playoffs in the semifinals last season in a 34-33 nail-biter.
The Panthers trailed by a touchdown at halftime Friday, but they came up with their first defensive stop of the day on the Cavaliers’ first drive of the second half when they forced a three-and-out with a third-down sack.
Catholic took over at its 48-yard line and went to work. With the Cavaliers spending much of the first half focusing on stopping Panthers quarterback Jason Pellerin, an Ole Miss commit, Catholic started using its best player as a decoy.
“I could tell that they were trying to take away … anything involving me,” Pellerin said.
The Panthers would fake a quarterback sweep or option keeper with Pellerin to draw the defense to one side of the field, then hit the other side with a misdirection play from Andre’ Bellefontaine or Seth Pierre, who combined to rack up 186 rushing yards.
“A little deception here, a little deceit, faking the speed sweep and running Seth up the middle,” Indest said. “The key in the second half was getting Seth going in the interior run game.”
The Panthers actually used the fumblerooski — where the ball never leaves the center’s hands until a player takes it, after attention is drawn away from the play — several times with lethal efficiency.
One in the first half went for a 71-yard Bellefontaine touchdown. Pierre took one 37 yards on that first drive of the second half on third-and-6, the key play of a drive that would eventually tie the score at 17 on a Pellerin touchdown.
“Isn’t the fumblerooski an illegal play?” Calvary coach John Bachmann joked.
But Calvary, as was the case all game, had an answer. Two plays after Pellerin’s touchdown run, quarterback Shea Patterson, a consensus five-star recruit, rifled a beauty of a pass to receiver Shun Brown on a deep post route, and Brown broke a tackle to take it 78 yards for a score. It was the second time the two hooked up for a score on the day.
Patterson said coaches noticed the Panthers in single coverage before halftime and called the play when they saw the alignment again.
“We saw the safety roll over, and we knew the play fake would bring the safety down and we’d just hit Shun over the top,” Patterson said.
When Catholic responded with a 14-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that drained 8:19 off the clock, Calvary was again ready with a response. This time, it would be with a steady dose of the ground game.
The explosive Cavaliers offense went on its most methodical drive of the day, taking nearly seven minutes off the clock on a 15-play, 61-yard drive. After a 3-yard Patterson touchdown run was wiped away by a penalty, junior kicker Trevor Stevens came in and drilled a 26-yard, go-ahead field goal from the right hash.
The loss was the lone blemish in a 12-1 season by the Panthers.
“Everything they’ve done, their body of work, it’s something that they’re not going to cherish in the next 24 hours,” Indest said. “But years from now, months from now, when they graduate, they’re going to realize … the special accomplishments they achieved.”