Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook still recalls the moment, a chilly November evening when a show of force from the town of Crowley resulted in a jammed-packed pep rally in front of the courthouse, sending well wishes to the football teams of Crowley and Notre Dame in their respective state semifinal playoff games.
Cook was back at Crowley for a second stint, having served the previous four years as offensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette (then University Southwestern Louisiana) and led the Gents to the Class 4A championship game.
In the moments that followed his team’s semifinal victory at Salmen, Cook wondered how Notre Dame fared in its semifinal against Haynesville.
“I remember saying how neat if would be if both teams from Crowley could go to the Dome at the same time,” said Cook, now in his 19th season at Notre Dame and who has led both schools to state titles. “Then I found out Notre Dame had lost a close one. It would have been sweet.”
Fast-forward nearly 20 years and Crowley and Notre Dame find themselves in exclusive company — both having completed their regular seasons with 10-0 records, district championships and top three seeds in the upcoming state playoffs.
Could Crowley, population 14,000 and known as the Rice Capital of America for its host role to the International Rice Festival, shed its moniker for the City of Champions?
“It would be a great accomplishment for the town,” Crowley coach Josh Fontenot said. “When a team does as well as 10-0 and the other team in town does the same thing, it’s a special event. I’d like to know if someone else in the same town in two different classes has done that.”
This year, the answer is no.
Notre Dame and Crowley were two of nine teams that compiled undefeated regular seasons and were the only two from the same city to accomplish the feat.
Moreover, the Gents received a No. 2 seed in the nonselect playoffs and will host No. 31 Abbeville at Gardiner Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday, while the Pios are seeded third in the Division III select playoffs and face No. 14 Haynes Academy at Rayne High.
“At the end of every night we fill out our schedule board with all the teams we play on it,” Fontenot said. “Every time we wonder how did Notre Dame do. I’ll do the same thing this Friday. Hopefully we win, and I can see they’re still going.”
During the summer’s unrelenting heat the two teams, in a tangible way, helped the other chart their path for success.
It’s become a ritual for Notre Dame to make the four-mile drive to Crowley’s campus to compete in an afternoon of 7-on-7 passing competition that has few ground rules where no score is kept.
Both teams share the same sideline, drink water together and compete with the sole intention of improving, not trying win something.
“They’ve played ball in the summer together, they know one another,” Cook said. “You cheer for a good play and encourage each other. It’s been good. They respect each other. Both teams are there to get better.”
Those summer matchups must have been legendary, considering how the strength of each team has evolved this fall.
Notre Dame has simply suffocated opponents with its defense, allowing just 4.2 points and 84.3 yards per game.
Junior linebacker Patrick Burleigh (65 tackles, 10 tackles for losses) leads a unit that’s registered six shutouts, 98.5 TFLs, 33.5 sacks and six interceptions.
By contrast Crowley’s offense averages 447 yards and 40 points per game.
Quarterback Pate Broussard has thrown for 2,379 yards and 17 TDs, running back Ty’Von Griffin has rushed for 1,117 yards and 27 TDs, while wide receiver Jacq’co Price has 41 receptions for 766 yards and 7 TDs.
“I’ve coached in a lot of towns and for the first time I’ve been in a town that’s so supportive of two schools,” Fontenot said. “You’re pulling for some kids whether they wear (Notre Dame) red or (Crowley) green. That’s all it is.”