For most teams, a state championship is cause for an all-out celebration.
For Lewis Cook’s Notre Dame squad, after its 13-3 victory over Riverside in the Division III select state final Friday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, there was no elaborate jollification. The players went one way, the coaches went another and Cook — who won his third state championship at Notre Dame — stuck around to watch more football.
“Once the game is over, we had a meeting with the kids in the locker room and, after that, they all go meet their parents,” Cook said. “A lot of us stayed for the (St. Thomas More) game. In the past, there were times when we rented a room and we all go together, but this time around was different. Every year is different.”
Every year is different, but Cook recalled several similarities between the 2015 state final and the 2009 final: a 14-7 victory over Parkview Baptist. The 2009 game began with an 80-yard Parkview TD that put the Pioneers down 7-0.
“We had a rough first half in that game a little bit, too,” Cook said.
“The second half of the ’09 game, Parkview didn’t make a first down. This game was similar because, in the second half, we were able to keep Riverside backed up the whole half and made a few first downs.
“We had a few good drives and, when we gave the ball up, we gave it to them deep on their side of the field. Both of those teams, the kids loved playing and loved one another.”
The major difference, Cook said, between the 2009 and 2015 teams was the experience at quarterback. The Pios in 2009 had the benefit of an experienced starter in Ryan Leonards, while this season yielded a newcomer in Joe Faulk.
“In ’09, we had a veteran quarterback coming back with Ryan, and this year, Joe with no game experience at the position, was the biggest question mark going in. But he continued to get better, and we knew we would be OK defensively,” Cook said. “We didn’t know we would be that dominant (on defense), but we had experience in all three levels coming back. I never dreamed of anything like that, though. That is the most dominant group that I’ve ever been around.”
Cook said the stretch between Weeks 6 and 9, when the Pios were not challenged, caused some concern, but he said the team responded to everything it was asked to do.
“This team really seemed to bond since Day One and stayed that well through the whole season,” Cook said. “We knew we were going to win those games, but they continued to work so hard in practice. In the back of their mind, they knew that, if we wanted to win this whole thing, we couldn’t take a step back. They never took a step back in practice and practiced hard every day.”
For Cook, the topic of retirement after this state championship is nowhere near being approached. He said as long his and his wife’s health remains good, he has “a good four or five years altogether.”
“It’s not something I’ve thought about, really,” he said. “I know that it’s coming, but my biggest thing is that my wife is approaching five years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. We are fortunate that she is healthy right now, and my health is OK. If something changes, that would give me a cause to think about getting out.
“My wife still enjoys the seasons, and I have great help. Coach Todd Gray and James McCleary have been with me the longest. (McCleary) has twins coming to ninth grade next year, and Gray has four daughters; his only son will be at Notre Dame in three years. I guess, in the back of my mind, I am thinking if I am still feeling good and having fun and things are going OK, after those guys get their sons out, I’ll be closing in on 70, and that would probably be enough.
“But I have no specific plans right now.”