When University High joined District 7-3A a year ago, the expectation was for the Cubs to become a rival for Parkview Baptist.
U-High has exceeded expectations. The top-seeded Cubs are 25-1 over the past two seasons, including a 12-0 mark this season. The only blemish is a loss to powerful John Curtis in last year’s Division II title game.
Now coach Chad Mahaffey’s team is one game away from an elusive state title. Standing in the Cubs’ way is that other traditional power — seventh-seeded Parkview Baptist (9-3).
“We weren’t surprised when Parkview won,” Mahaffey said. “They’re solid defensively. You can’t key on one guy in the backfield. It’s a new game, and it’ll be the one everybody remembers until the next one.”
It also will be for a state title. The Cubs and Eagles square off in the Division II title game that helps highlight Friday’s action at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Game time is 5 p.m. for the All-Baton Rouge final that marks the fourth time the teams have played each other over the past two seasons with UHS holding a 3-0 edge. PBS first-year coach Jay Mayet understands the comparisons to this budding rivalry to the one the Eagles had with Redemptorist for more than a decade.
“There were times when we played Redemptorist in district and then again in the playoffs,” Mayet said. “Of course, we haven’t won one yet, so that’s different There are similarities.”
However, the Eagles have won the big one. Parkview’s claimed 3A state titles in 2001, 2007, 2010 and 2012. U-High’s last state title in football came in 1988 in Class 1A.
Bill Curl, longtime public directions director of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was in the Dome just 12 months ago when perennial power John Curtis won its 26th state title.
Curl was also there 36 years ago, the last time Jesuit played for a title.
He remembers it like it was yesterday.
There were 30 something thousand people there for that one.
“It was a tremendous crowd with just great anticipation leading up to the game,” Curl recalls.
Although he was describing Jesuit’s 13-7 loss to St. Augustine in 1978, he very well could have been foreshadowing Friday night in what should be an electric atmosphere when Curtis and Jesuit clash for the Division I championship.
Tremendous crowd. Great anticipation. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
This is nothing new for Curtis (10-1), which has played in the championship game every year since 1996. The Patriots are going for their 27th state championship.
Jesuit (11-2), meanwhile, is going for its eighth state title, but first since 1960.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Frank Misuraca, who was athletic director the last time the Blue Jays played for a title.
While Jesuit is looking to win its first title in almost four decades, Curtis is looking to add yet another feather in its cap. Curtis decided to play up in classification this year and could claim a title playing with the school’s with the largest enrollments.
Patriots coach J.T. Curtis, the nation’s second winningest coach, said winning in the largest classification won’t make this one any sweeter than the previous 26.
“We have always played such a competitive schedule,” Curtis said. “We played in 4A so many years and when I thought some of the teams in 4A were as good as any in the state. So playing in a big arena against really good teams is not new to us. We certainly have respect for Jesuit. It’s nothing new to us, but it’s certainly going to be a challenge.”
When Southern Lab football coach Nick Mitchell looks at the playoff brackets and sees the teams still remaining, there’s gleam in his eye.
Three of the Kittens’ nondistrict opponents, a district foe and scrimmage partner are still alive for their respective state championships, led by University High in the Division II title game.
What it did was reinforce Mitchell’s belief in preparing his talented team against some of the state’s best competition and the payoff comes at 10 a.m. Friday when No. 5 Southern Lab (8-5) encounters No. 6 Ouachita Christian (10-3) for the Division IV state crown.
“Four years ago our vision was to make sure we provided the kids with the opportunity to play the best football against the best competition,” Mitchell said. “If that meant extending outside of the local area into some of the tradition-rich areas of the state, that was part of the plan.”
For the second straight year Southern Lab sacrificed a potentially sparkling record for a road less traveled with five losses in their first six games.
Included in that group were setbacks against U-High, Plaquemine (4A semifinalist) and Amite (3A semifinalist), while the Kittens defeated District 6-1A rival Kentwood (1A semifinalist) and battled West St. John (1A semifinalist) in a spring scrimmage.
“It speaks volumes of the dedication of our kids,” Mitchell said. “The buy-in has been tremendous. Whatever we placed in front of them, whether they liked it or not, they did it. We played against bigger, stronger and faster teams. It put us in position where we are today.”
For the third straight year Southern Lab and OCS cross paths, but this time it’s in the state final where the Kittens are appearing for the first time since 2000. They last won a state title in 1996.
With consecutive state titles to its credit, OCS had designs on a three-peat last season until Southern Lab traveled to Monroe and came away with a 20-14 upset quarterfinal victory.
“They’re a different team, and so are we,” Mitchell said. “I’m sure there are some emotions they’re holding on to from last year they’ll bring into the game, but our emotions will be pretty high also.”
OCS’ offense has relied on the passing of Chance Clowers, who has completed 156 of 266 passes for 2,366 yards with 29 TDs and eight interceptions.
Linebackers Dorien Welch and Javahn Ferguson lead Southern Lab’s defense with 169 and 138 tackles, respectively, while cornerback Jonard Robinson has 12 interceptions and 21 pass break-ups.
Offensively, the Kittens follow the lead of quarterback Bladrick Veal (125 of 220, 1,857 yards, 20 TDs) and running back Darbbeon Profit (213, 1,744, 15 TDs).
“I do not think playing in the Superdome will take their minds off the game,” Mitchell said. “When you can line up and play against some of the teams we’ve played, for us this is another football game. Yes, it’s for the trophy but it’s another game.”