Mention the word “returns” this time of the year and two things instantly come to mind.
Saturday night’s election returns are the first. The notion of standing in line to do holiday gift returns in a few weeks is the other.
Livonia High’s Guy Mistretta and Amite High’s Alden Foster don’t have to worry about the first one. Neither wants to return the gift received Friday night.
Both veteran coaches garnered return trips to the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic next weekend, thanks to Friday’s semifinal wins.
Their teams will square off against each other. Top-seeded Livonia (13-0) meets No. 3 Amite (12-2) in the Class 3A title game that opens Saturday’s action at noon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“When you talk about 3A football, there are always seven or eight teams you figure will be in the discussion for a state title every year,” Mistretta said. “Amite is always in that group. They’re known for their talent and their success over a long period of time.”
The teams have a lot in common. Both are located in small towns that are extremely passionate about their high school football teams.
Case in point? Livonia hauled in extra sets of bleachers to accommodate what was believed to be a record home crowd for Friday’s semifinal against West Feliciana.
The talent and makeup of the teams also is similar. Each squad has more than one player with college scholarship offers. Livonia defensive lineman Willie Baker counts Arizona State among his offers. Foster said AHS defensive back Joshua Perry has an LSU offer.
“They’ve got a lot of talented athletes and so do we,” Amite’s Foster said. “When I look at film of Livonia, it’s like looking in the mirror. I do think they are a little bigger than we are in some places.”
There’s no record of the teams playing each other previously. Mistretta and Foster have never faced each other before, but both have title-game experience.
Foster’s Warriors were the 3A runner-up to St. Charles Catholic in 2011, losing 9-8. Foster also coached Class 2A St. Helena Central to a title game in 2004. He is a former Amite player.
Mistretta is best known for coaching at his alma mater, Redemptorist. He was an assistant on Sid Edwards-coached teams that won two state titles. Mistretta was head coach when the Wolves won their last state title in 3A in 2005.
Foster mentions a near encounter with the Wildcats in 2011. Livonia was coached by current Zachary coach David Brewerton at that time. Mistretta succeeded Brewerton this fall.
“In 2011, it looked like we were going to play Livonia but McMain upset them,” Foster said. “I remember looking at them on film then and telling our other coaches that was a team that really coming on.”
A coach’s blessing
Foster and Mistretta say getting the chance to coach in a state title game is a humbling experience.
“I feel so fortunate,” Mistretta said.
“I think back to my dad and all the years he coached and what he did. There are plenty of coaches, head coaches and assistants, who are much better than I am who’ve never got this chance.
“Talent has a lot to do with it, and sometimes you have to have a little luck. There also are a lot of great players who never get to do this, so its special for the teams too.”
Foster added, “This is such a blessing for my whole staff and the kids. It’s true you never know if you’ll ever get this chance again once you have it.”
The Mistrettas are one of two father-son duos to win state football titles.
G.J. “Bucky” Mistretta led Ascension Catholic to 1A state titles in 1973 and 1992.
Haynesville’s David Franklin seeks his second straight 1A title on Friday. Franklin and his father, Hall of Fame coach Alton “Red” Franklin, have combined to win 13 state titles.