Early in his postgame news conference, Catholic High-New Iberia football coach Brent Indest was overcome with emotion.
Indest, the typically fiery coach, showed a softer side in the moments after his Panthers’ 27-24 loss to Calvary Baptist in Friday’s Division III select state championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I’ve gotten close to this group of seniors,” Indest said later about his 18-member group. “It takes special kids to get you to this point. I told them once the dust clears they’ll look back on their accomplishments. It’s just phenomenal.”
Indest encountered a similar group of seniors four years ago when he guided Carencro to the Class 5A state championship. That team also finished with a defeat — falling 20-13 to West Monroe — but it didn’t diminish their accomplishments or the attachment Indest felt toward them.
“It’s not because they went to the Dome, but it’s the people they were and the fighters they were,” he said. “Talent’s not the only thing that gets you there. We stress these core words: attitude, discipline, toughness and effort. We stress that, and we top that with execution. This team emulated all of that this year.”
Top-seeded Catholic High (12-1) became only the second team in school history to reach a state final.
They came pretty close to matching the 1962 team’s undefeated state championship, pushing defending state champion Calvary Baptist to the brink before a 26-yard field goal provided the winning margin with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to go in the game.
“It would be a shame if our class wasn’t considered one of the best in Catholic High history,” CHNI quarterback Jason Pellerin said. “We had a bunch of great guys. It was great sharing this experience with them. Obviously I would have liked to have had a ring on my finger, but it’s a statement to Catholic High and the great program we have. It’s been an honor to be with these guys.”
The paths of the two teams crossed in New Iberia last season when Calvary escaped with a 34-33 semifinal victory in a game that wasn’t decided until Pellerin’s final pass inside the 5-yard line was tipped and intercepted in the end zone.
The task of trying to defeat Calvary was equally monumental given the Cavaliers blue-chip laden roster that included two Arizona commitments and one of the nation’s top junior quarterbacks in Shea Patterson.
Catholic took a more cerebral approach to the game, slowing the pace with deliberate offensive series that drained almost every second of the play clock and in turned burned precious time off the game clock.
It almost worked.
The Panthers rushed 43 times for 233 yards and held a five-minute advantage in time of possession over the more quick-strike Cavaliers.
“We’re outmanned in almost every single game we played except district,” CHNI senior running back Andre Bellefontaine said. “We played teams bigger than us. Every linebacker I had to hit this year was bigger than me. We know how to play against bigger people than us.”
Catholic dug into its back of tricks to offset a 7-0 deficit when Bellefontaine raced 71 yards with a “fumble-rooskie” — a play the Panthers a total of three times for 114 yards.
When place-kicker Ethan Poche kicked a 24-yard field goal with two seconds before halftime to cap a 13-play, 51-yard drive, the Panthers trailed just 17-10.
“When we’re down seven at halftime, I’m giddy,” Indest said. “Just keeping them in punching range was big and then we come out and tie the thing. We did what we did. What I loved about that drive was that it was just smashed down their throats.”
Pellerin, an Ole Miss commitment, finished off CHNI’s opening drive of the second half with a 1-yard run and later pulled his team even again at 24 with 9:21 left in the game — a 7-yard scoring run that culminated a 14-play, 71-yard march.
Calvary relied on a similarly lengthy go-ahead field goal drive — 15 plays and 61 yards — before Catholic failed to generate any positive yardage on its final four plays of the season, losing 8 yards.
“Everyone in our community supports us,” Bellefontaine said. “We believed in ourselves and worked hard all season long. We trust in each other. It’s a great bond. We’re like brothers, and we love each other.”