Bill Curl, longtime public directions director of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, was in the Dome just 12 months ago when perennial power John Curtis won its 26th state title.
Curl was also there 36 years ago, the last time Jesuit played for a title.
He remembers it like it was yesterday.
There were 30 something thousand people there for that one.
“It was a tremendous crowd with just great anticipation leading up to the game,” Curl recalls.
Although he was describing Jesuit’s 13-7 loss to St. Augustine in 1978, he very well could have been foreshadowing Friday night in what should be an electric atmosphere when Curtis and Jesuit clash for the Division I championship.
Tremendous crowd. Great anticipation.
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
This is nothing new for Curtis (10-1), which has played in the championship game every year since 1996. The Patriots are going for their 27th state championship.
Jesuit (11-2), meanwhile, is going for its eighth state title, but first since 1960.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Frank Misuraca, who was athletic director the last time the Blue Jays played for a title.
While Jesuit is looking to win its first title in almost four decades, Curtis is looking to add yet another feather in its cap. Curtis decided to play up in classification this year and could claim a title playing with the school’s with the largest enrollments.
Patriots coach J.T. Curtis, the nation’s second winningest coach, said winning in the largest classification won’t make this one any sweeter than the previous 26.
“We have always played such a competitive schedule,” Curtis said. “We played in 4A so many years and when I thought some of the teams in 4A were as good as any in the state. So playing in a big arena against really good teams is not new to us. We certainly have respect for Jesuit. It’s nothing new to us, but it’s certainly going to be a challenge.”
But Curtis players admit that getting a chance to win this one, playing up with the big boys, gives the team a little extra motivation boost as they go for their fourth consecutive title.
“I think it puts a little more fire in our stomachs to play harder,” senior defensive back Hunter Dale said. “We would have played hard in the regular playoffs, but I think the way people doubted us, it put a fire in us to play even harder.”
Curtis squeaked by rival Evangel Christian in the quarterfinals before beating Brother Martin 40-20 in last week’s semifinals. But as the No. 1 seed, their appearance in the Dome didn’t surprise many.
Jesuit, though, entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed. The Blue Jays are hoping to keep the momentum going from last week’s convincing 28-14 semifinal victory over Rummel. The second-seeded Raiders were ranked No. 12 nationally and going for their third consecutive title.
“It’s like you climb Mount Everest and then see you have 2,000 more feet to go,” Jesuit tight end Foster Moreau said. “You can’t celebrate yet. You have to get to the peak. We won last week and there was a lot of celebration. But we know there is still more work to be done.”
The game will pit Curtis’ patented and potent running attack against Jesuit’s balanced offense.
“John Curtis is John Curtis,” Jesuit coach Mark Songy said. “Each Sunday you go into the film room looking for weaknesses. We’ll still be looking Friday night. They don’t have any weaknesses and they leave no stones unturned. They treat special teams just as importantly as they treat offense and defense. You have to battle three different aspects and you have to battle the fact that they have been there and they are used to it and expect to win.”
While the Dome has been almost a second home to the Patriots, it’s fairly new to the Blue Jays except for a regular season game last year against St. Paul’s.
“It will be like nothing I have ever experienced,” Jesuit linebacker Robert Lobrano said.
Curtis sold out its allotment of student tickets Thursday.
A large crowd is expected once again tonight, perhaps even surpassing that crowd in 1978.
“The big thing about that game (in 1978) is that it was the reason the Dome started doing the championship game,” Curl said. “The LHSAA saw the crowd and decided we needed to make it happen to keep playing here.
“It took high school football beyond the fan bases of the two schools. It got you outside of the people who would normally come to the games and reached out to those other football fans in the community and gave them a reason to come. There will be a lot of people there Friday who aren’t wearing Curtis or Jesuit colors who just want to see a heck of a game.”