BOSSIER CITY — The Horseshoe Casino hotel stretches 25 stories into the north Louisiana sky.
Its golden facade can be seen from miles away, a gleaming landmark casting a shadow over the towns of Shreveport and Bossier City.
The casinos are much of what this area is known for. They hug the Red River — a seductive, money-grabbing strip that has swallowed the area for years.
On the outskirts, massive metal pumps work the region’s God-given resource: natural gas. And don’t forget the late-night bars and daiquiri shops. Closing time at some is 6 a.m.
This is what northwest Louisiana’s central hub is all about.
For at least one night, though, this region gets the brightest of spotlights. It can claim ownership of the lead characters in a nationally televised, Southeastern Conference college football duel: LSU vs. Mississippi State.
“That’s the coolest thing about it,” said Will Marston, a retired longtime coach from the area. “It might be LSU against Mississippi State, but here in northwest Looou-siana, it’s Haughton against Parkway.”
LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, a Parkway High product, meets Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, a former Haughton High star, at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in Starkville, Mississippi.
Haughton and Parkway, both nestled in the Bossier Parish School District, are separated by just 15 miles. The two are part of a four-decades-long rivalry — one recently made of epic battles involving the two quarterbacks.
Haughton and Parkway are sister schools, really — both tucked a few miles from those casino lights, a short drive from the late-night bars and up the road from that slew of oil-pumping machines.
This is northwest Louisiana’s new calling card: Brandon Harris and Dak Prescott.
“For Bossier Parish and the Bossier school system, it’s an outstanding representation of our district, to have these two young men competing against each other and getting the national recognition,” said DC Machen, who has been in Bossier Parish for 42 years and has served as superintendent of the school system since 2009. “Hopefully the broadcasters will note they’re products of the Bossier Parish school system.”
Two starting quarterbacks from rival high schools in the same district meeting in a key early-season SEC battle? It doesn’t happen often — and it has never happened here.
It has torn the community in many ways. Longtime LSU fans from Haughton are doing the unthinkable: rooting for an SEC Western Division rival. Parkway people — avid Prescott supporters — now have a dog in the fight in Harris.
“It’s amazing,” said Tim Fletcher, a popular local radio personality and columnist who has worked in the parish since 1994.
“This really is a story,” said David Feaster, in his fourth season as Parkway’s coach. “These are legitimate small-town kids.”
“It’s big. It’s gonna be big,” Marston said. “How many times do two schools within 15 miles have a starting quarterback playing in the SEC playing against each other?”
Metropolitans in Texas, California and Florida may have produced something similar. But here?
“This is poor ole Looou-siana,” Marston said.
City boys vs. country guys
Gene Couvillion doesn’t hide his disdain for Parkway.
“We beat ’em so bad when I was quarterback,” said Couvillion, now Haughton’s principal, “that their coach’s wife wanted to beat our butts.”
That was in 1972.
This is an old rivalry — Haughton vs. Parkway — but it only recently has become competitive. Haughton leads the series 30-12, but Parkway has won the past three games — a recent run that Harris helped start as a junior in 2012.
It’s a friendly rivalry, most said. “It’s not like we poison each other’s trees,” one person put it.
Oh, but there’s some hate there.
“Nobody liked Parkway,” Prescott said this week. “And they didn’t like us.”
Haughton, which opened in 1906 as a single-room schoolhouse, is the older school. Parkway, which became a high school in 1968, is the younger.
Both moved up to the LHSAA’s 5A classification the same year, 2011. Their enrollments are separated by just 45 students. Parkway, at 1,270 kids, is slightly larger, Machen said.
Their demographics are about the same, too. Haughton is about 75 percent white. Parkway is about 70 percent white. The Louisiana Department of Education rates both as “B” schools, Machen said, “and they’re working to be ‘A’ schools.”
Folks from both schools share a hatred for the district’s big bully brother, Airline High.
The school district zones border each other, meeting at Sligo Road. For a stretch of that road, families on the south side must send their children to Parkway, and families on the north must send them to Haughton.
Aside from those similarities, there are striking differences between the schools and communities.
Haughton, population 3,400, is 20 minutes east from central Bossier City, just south of Interstate 20 and around the corner from downtown Haughton. It’s a quintessential small, country town — full of God-fearing people who characterize themselves as “country folk.”
“Biggest thing that happens in Haughton is Friday night football games,” said assistant principal Martha Turner, in her 33rd year at Haughton.
How does one get to Haughton High? Hang a left at the post office. Once you pass the horse-riding club — “Cowboy Church,” a sign reads out front — follow the narrow, two-lane road another mile.
“A few more boots walk the halls of Haughton,” said Rick Bryant, Parkway’s baseball coach and assistant football coach — and a Haughton graduate.
Parkway is a 10-minute drive down the winding Red River, south of the bustling bridge connecting Bossier City to its big sister, Shreveport. The people here call the area “South Bossier” or “SoBo,” and they’re proud of their community.
It’s a flourishing suburb. New businesses and shiny, recently built subdivisions dot the main thoroughfare. A sign outside one of the new neighborhoods reads, “Hurry! Only a few lots left!”
The school building is fairly new as well. It opened in 2009. It’s a shiny structure built similar to most schools these days: a two-story hunk of metal, glass and brick.
It’s a far cry from Haughton High.
“It’s an old dinosaur,” joked Rodney Guin, football coach at Haughton since 2000.
Haughton’s campus is more than 100 years old. Covered metal walkways connect more than 10 individual brick buildings. One of them was built in the 1940s, another in the 1930s. Tall pine trees enclose the layout — if, for some reason, you didn’t already get the point.
“Yeah,” Prescott said, “Haughton is more country.”
‘The Drive’ and ‘The Game’
Some in the area refer to it as “The Game”: Haughton vs. Parkway, 2010.
Both were undefeated playing in the final game of the season. The winner claimed the district championship.
“It’s the biggest game that’s been in this parish since I’ve been here. That’s 30-plus years,” Guin said.
Parkway’s 7,000-seat stadium was filled by 4 p.m. Concessions ran out of food by 7. Standing-room-only areas were created on the track encircling the field, and the bands were moved behind the end zones to create more seating.
Harris didn’t play in the game. He was a freshman watching from the Parkway sideline. Prescott, then a senior, had a torn MCL, and his status was in doubt leading up to the clash. He didn’t start; he sat out the first series, he said, to create more buzz about his playing status.
He entered on the second series, then threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns.
Harris came away from that game thinking, “That’s one of the best throwing quarterbacks I’ve ever seen,” he said recently.
Prescott and Haughton won 27-21. “The Game” followed “The Drive.”
In 2009, the two met in Haughton in a back-and-forth battle, also for the district title. Prescott led the Bucs on an 80-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds for a rousing win.
“We broke those Parkway peoples’ hearts that night,” said Guin, who can’t help but crack a smile.
The games reignited a rivalry that some from Haughton said was “nonexistant” for much of the previous 20 years. Parkway won just twice, for instance, during the 1990s.
Things have changed. Parkway has taken advantage of a transfer policy that has existed for years in the school district, said Fletcher, the local radio host and columnist. A student in the majority race at one school can transfer within the district to a school in which he or she would be a minority.
Fletcher said Harris used this policy, moving to Parkway after attending a middle school that fed into predominantly black Bossier High. Bossier High, 1-20 the past two seasons, runs the Wing-T.
“Imagine Brandon running the Wing-T. They wanted him to play basketball there,” Fletcher said.
People from Haughton said Harris “opened the floodgates” for other inner-city kids to do the same.
“They can say whatever they want,” an administrator at Haughton said. “It’s for athletics.”
Harris took over as Parkway’s starting quarterback in 2012, leading the Panthers to a win over Haughton that season and the next year as a senior. They won again last year, a third straight victory — unprecedented in the series between the schools.
“They’ve turned over the rivalry,” Prescott said.
Mentor vs. protégé
Prescott received the Facebook message before his senior season, a few months ahead of “The Game.” Harris was a high school freshman, reaching out to the more veteran Prescott.
“He asked things to do to get better,” Prescott said.
That began a mentor/protégé relationship. They’re not best friends. They don’t talk every day, or even every week. The relationship is football-centric. For example, Harris sought advice from Prescott during recruiting, and Prescott has helped the LSU sophomore through some bumpy points.
“I remember talking with him about his first start at Auburn,” Prescott said. “Both of our first SEC starts were on the road at Auburn. I lost my first SEC start at Auburn — same game he did. Got to keep going. He has a bright future.”
The players take on the identity of their high schools. Prescott has a somewhat reserved personality, at least compared to Harris’. He’s a thick-framed, power quarterback more similar to Tim Tebow.
Harris is bubbly, talkative and outgoing. He’s a flashy, speedy gunslinger who moves his team down the field in a more “artful” way than, say, Prescott, Fletcher said.
“He sent me a text yesterday,” Harris said earlier this week of Prescott. “This is an important week. We’ll get to speak after the game, but as far as now, it’s about preparation for Mississippi State.”
It’s not about Haughton and Parkway, both quarterbacks said. It’s not about Brandon and Dak, they claimed.
Both realize the significance of it for their region, though. It’s a one-time thing, maybe to never happen again.
“It’s cool,” Prescott said. “It’s awesome. Great for the Bossier City area. Great for both towns, Haughton and Parkway.”
The area has produced major college quarterbacks: Terry Bradshaw, Brock Berlin, Josh and John David Booty, Arnaz Battle, Joe Ferguson and David Woodley, to name a few. But none met on the football field, the locals said.
For Haughton and Parkway specifically, it’s a rarity to have one player sign with a Southeastern Conference team. Brothers Myron and Lorenza Baker, both former Haughton stars who played at Louisiana Tech, and former Chiefs running back Joe Delaney, also of Haughton, might be the most famous of any football players from either school.
Delany was an All-Pro running back for two seasons with the Chiefs before he drowned while attempting to rescue three children in a pond in Monroe. Myron Baker spent five years in the NFL. His picture hangs in the Haughton fieldhouse beside a photo of Lorenza, his older brother.
Lorenza has been an assistant principal at Parkway for four years. He returns to Haughton for football games and must walk to the visitor’s sideline — a “different” feeling, he described it. He hears about it from the Haughton people.
“They’re like, ‘Coach, what’s going on with you?’ ” he said.
‘I want to be there’
Parkway plays Gladewater (Texas) at 11 a.m. Saturday in the second game of the season.
Feaster plans to leave immediately after the game — he’s hoping by 3 p.m. — to drive to Starkville. It’s a five-hour drive from Bossier. The LSU-State game begins at 8:15.
He’ll be cutting it close.
“I want to be there to say I was there: I was there when Haughton and Parkway’s quarterbacks go against each other,” he said.
He’ll be joined on the sideline by Guin. The two coaches are good friends. They’ll each have a boxer in the ring on Scott Field. They aren’t torn on who they want to win and what they want to happen: They want their former players to win and the other to do well in a loss.
Fletcher said Prescott and Harris probably feel the same.
“I think that Brandon is going to be excited beyond compare, but one of the most calming influences on Brandon is … Dak,” he said. “Dak wants Brandon to play well. I guarantee you he wants Brandon to throw 300 yards in a loss. It bothered Dak the way it shook out last year (in Harris’ freshman season).”
Prescott and Harris played a pickup game of basketball together while home for a few days in the summer. Prescott was suffering from some injury, and, so, Harris said he got the best of him.
“He was guarding me,” a smiling Harris said, “and I kind of gave him the work.”
Outside of that basketball gym? Casinos, bars and natural gas pumps.
Inside? This area’s new landmarks.
“If somebody told me 10 years ago that there would be two guys from Bossier Parish starting at quarterback in a game like this,” Guin said, “I don’t know if I would have believed them.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.