A year ago, Catholic-New Iberia was in the same position it is now: the Division III select semifinals, a win away from playing for a state championship in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Last year, the Panthers came up short, falling to eventual state champion Calvary Baptist 34-33.
“Last year, we got knocked out in such a bitter fashion,” coach Brent Indest said. “Since then, it’s been our players’ goal to punch through that threshold and get through this game. We don’t talk about it a lot, but I know it is on their mind.”
On the sideline opposite from No. 1 seed Catholic-New Iberia (11-0) on Friday night, No. 5 seed Newman (12-1) also has experienced the feeling of playing in a semifinal. But that most recently came in 1991 — with a sophomore by the name of Peyton Manning under center.
“It’s been an amazing year so far, but we hope we have a lot left in front of us,” Newman coach Nelson Stewart said. “These kids have worked really hard to get into this position. They understand the opportunity.”
Friday’s semifinal at Newman will be a matchup of high-powered offenses, both averaging more than 47 points. The winner advances to the state title game Dec. 5 with a matchup against No. 2 Calvary Baptist or No. 3 Riverside Academy.
Offensively, the Panthers focus on running the ball via the Wing-T formation. It has been successful, opening holes for two 1,000-yard rushers — Seth Pierre and Andre’ Bellefontaine — and dual-threat quarterback Jason Pellerin.
“(Catholic-New Iberia) is one of the best offenses we’ve faced this season,” Stewart said. “Their Wing-T is very unique. Our defense won the game for us last week (in a 27-10 victory over No. 4 seed Opelousas Catholic), and if we are going to get (a win) this week, they are going to have to do the same thing.”
The battle in the trenches, as usual, will be important. The Panthers will have success if their offensive line is able to open holes, which Indest believes will not be easy.
“Newman has really good defensive linemen that present a challenge,” he said. “They also come together and play really good team defense.”
The Greenies run a spread offense that attacks opposing defenses through the air and with zone reads.
“Wide receivers (Tyler) Addison and (Elbert) Thomas stand out immediately, and of course they have (Jabiari) Tyler at quarterback,” Indest said. “Coach Stewart does a really good job of creating different ways of giving receivers the football and getting their quarterback involved in the run game.”
Stewart said he believes patience will be key.
“(Catholic-New Iberia) is very structurally sound on defense,” he said. “We have to take what the defense gives us and not be overly aggressive. We’ll probably have to play our best game of the year.”