SHREVEPORT — “Unbelievable!”
That was the word Catholic High coach Dale Weiner repeated over and over after his sixth-seeded Bears came from behind to knock off No. 2 seed Evangel 27-21 in overtime in the Division I semifinals Friday night to move into the school’s first championship game in 25 years.
Catholic will face Archbishop Rummel at 8:30 p.m. next Friday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
How unbelievable was Friday’s victory?
The Bears, playing without leading rusher Clyde Edwards-Helaire, dug themselves a huge hole in the first half, falling behind 21-0 after the Eagles marched 69 yards in 43 seconds for a touchdown just before halftime.
Then they squandered a golden opportunity after gaining possession on the Evangel 24 early in the third quarter, going four-and-out.
It looked like the Bears’ season was over when, trailing 21-14, they failed to convert a fourth-and-20 with 1:20 left.
Then the unbelievable happened.
The Eagles’ star running back — Jamarquez Mims, who had a terrific game with 138 rushing yards, 17 receiving yards and two touchdowns — lost a fumble on his team’s 33-yard line with 57 seconds left.
Just 33 seconds later, quarterback Ian Brian hit a wide-open Parker Sulik on a 13-yard throwback pass to the end zone, and Parker Fontenot’s PAT kick tied it and sent the game to overtime.
Evangel (9-3) was first on offense in overtime and had two disastrous plays: a holding call on first down and an interception by Catholic’s Connor Bowen.
Catholic (9-3) went on offense, and its first two plays earned it a spot in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Brian picked up 4 yards on first down, and James Berrigan plunged in from 6 yards for the win.
Weiner said the theme from his assistants at halftime was “Man up.”
“When we came together, I said, ‘Guys, do you get the message? It’s time to show how tough you are and how much you believe in what we do.’ Our theme this year is ‘Believe it,’ and these cats have always believed. I’m so proud of them, and, you know what? This really doesn’t shock me,” Weiner said.
Sulik got the Bears’ first touchdown on a 2-yard run, and Alex Bertrand came up with an 18-yard touchdown on a Brian pass that looked like an Evangel interception but ended up in his receiver’s hands.
Berrigan was the Bears’ leading rusher and receiver, carrying 14 times for 45 yards and catching six passes for 50.
“This is a year-round process,” Evangel coach Byron Dawson said. “It’s never about one play; it’s a culmination of many plays that get you at the end. It’s the little things. We had opportunities to close out the game, but we didn’t capitalize.”
Catholic had problems in two areas of fundamental football in the first half: executing the snap to its punter and tackling Mims. Three bad snaps hurt, and Mims’ strength and agility were on display as he scored on runs of 33 yards and 1 yard.
Punter Daniel Guilbeau made an athletic grab of the first bad snap but was able to get off only a 5-yard punt. That snap came after the Bears lost 19 yards on a snap over the head of Brian.
The Eagles took over on the Catholic 34 and needed only three plays to score on a 33-yard run by Mims off a backward pass from Connor Curry. Mims appeared to be trapped in the backfield but broke a tackle, juked through several defenders and found the end zone.
It was déjà vu on the next Catholic punt attempt, only this time Guilbeau had to run so far back that the punt netted a loss of 17 yards. The Bears defense made a stand, though, and held the Eagles to a field-goal attempt that Seth Green missed wide right.
The Eagles added a touchdown just before halftime when Curry hit Tennessee commitment Corey Henderson with a 10-yard pass.
Curry also lost a touchdown pass to Tanner Ash on the Eagles’ third possession when it was called back by a penalty.