Right before Catholic High kicked off the second half in the 2015 Division I football state championship, Bears coach Dale Weiner pulled his offensive coordinator, Gabe Fertitta, to the side.
Weiner knew the pressure his play caller would have on him in the biggest game of his career so far and wanted to let him know he believed in him.
Catholic won that game, the first state title in school history.
Two years later, Weiner is retired and Fertitta, now a first-year head coach, gave his offensive coordinator the same speech and prayer as the Bears prepare for their return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic.
“(Weiner) said a prayer for me at halftime right on the 50-yard line with his arm around my shoulder and I felt a complete release of that anxiety,” Fertitta said. “I talked to our OC (on Tuesday) about that. There’s some anxiety there and it’s God letting you know you’re alive and that you’re doing something big.”
Catholic, along with University Lab and Ascension Catholic from the Baton Rouge area, are focused on the last remaining game of the season for their respective select divisions.
No. 6 Ascension Catholic is up first against No. 4 Lafayette Christian in the Division IV championship Thursday, Dec. 7, then it’s No. 2 U-High against No. 1 De La Salle for Division II on Friday and finally No. 4 Catholic against No. 2 John Curtis on Saturday.
That gives each school two weeks to prepare — for better or worse.
Fertitta and U-High coach Chad Mahaffey said, while they are confident the added bye week won’t negatively affect their teams, they would prefer the game this weekend instead of letting it drag out for what will be 15 days for the Bears since winning in the semifinals.
Looking on the bright side, though, that does give players a few extra days to watch film and, most of all, get to full health before going to New Orleans.
“Two weeks is, in a way, nice because you have some things to set up with the game as far as hotels and logistics for playing in,” Mahaffey said. “But at the same time it’s kind of a different week and routine. We had a bye week the first round of the playoffs, so we’re trying to keep it similar to that. We’re not out killing our kids or anything, just working on a lot of basics. I want to keep them moving and in game shape.”
Fortunately for U-High and Catholic, players and coaches are previously accustomed to the rigors of state championship preparations as both went in 2015.
That isn’t the case for Ascension Catholic.
The Bulldogs have a shot at the championship for the first time since 1992, long before any of their players were born.
Coach Drey Trosclair now has the responsibility of managing players’ emotions and nerves as well as getting them ready on the field.
“The one thing we’ve been telling them is that this is just another game, which, at the end of the day, it really is,” Trosclair said. “It’s just another football game. I told them at practice yesterday, ‘You guys have been doing this since you were 6 or 7 seven years old. This is what you love to do.’
“This game is a big game. You can’t hide that. But at the end of the day, it’s just lining up and playing football.”