CROWLEY — The 300-win celebration began early.
Longtime Notre Dame football coach Lewis Cook was able to sit back and enjoy the moment Thursday night, much more than he or anybody else had expected considering the Pioneers were facing Breaux Bridge, which was ranked and a longtime rival.
But the Pios were not to be denied in giving their coach his due, and Cook became the seventh coach in Louisiana history to record 300 career wins with a 51-21 win.
“I certainly didn’t expect that,” said Cook, who was surrounded on the field at Gardiner Memorial Stadium by Notre Dame fans who eventually formed a huge human “300” formation. “I was worried about us trying to get any points on the board.”
As it turned out, the Pioneers (2-0) had no problems scoring.
After a 7-7 first-quarter stalemate, Notre Dame scored on six straight possessions in the second and third quarters to build a 45-14 lead midway through the third. In that same stretch, the Pioneer defense held the Tigers (1-1) without a first down for 27 minutes.
Breaux Bridge didn’t have a snap in Notre Dame territory until less than three minutes remained in the third, and the Class 4A sixth-ranked Tigers managed five first downs in the entire contest.
“Our defense just had a great first half,” Cook said. “I was amazed how our kids came out and played. I think (300 wins) meant more to them than it did to me.”
But Cook wasn’t throwing it back after joining J.T. Curtis of John Curtis and Jim Hightower of St. Thomas More as the state’s only active coaches with 300 wins. Curtis (531) and Hightower (368) are first and second on a list that also includes Red Franklin of Haynesville, the late Don Shows of West Monroe, Vic Dalrymple of Oak Grove and the late Racer Holstead of Tallulah.
“You look at those names,” Cook said. “It takes a guy hanging around a long time. There’ll be more that will come along, but it’s special since all 300 of them came in Acadia Parish. That’s what’s more meaningful to me.”
Cook, who coached at Rayne and Crowley before taking the Notre Dame job 20 seasons ago, watched his offense churn out 385 yards while staying almost exclusively on the ground in the second half. Quarterback Brad Stoma’s 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ethan Smith early in the second gave Class 3A sixth-ranked Notre Dame the lead for good at 14-7. Stoma then capped two drives with runs of 1 and 6 yards in a four-minute span late in the period.
Breaux Bridge’s Joseph Williams returned the kickoff after Stoma’s second scoring run for a 94-yard touchdown, but Dustin Reiners hit a 45-yard field goal on the last play of the half and the Pioneers got scores on runs by Lance Bertrand and Damon Comeaux in the third to begin the celebration.
The Tigers, who looked solid on defense in an opening 22-3 victory over Class 5A New Iberia last Friday, used a big play for their first score, with Drake Guidry hitting Javin Derousselle over the top for a 73-yard touchdown midway through the first. After that, though, Breaux Bridge didn’t get another first down until late in the third quarter.
“I thought this would be a dogfight,” Cook said. “I have so much respect for Breaux Bridge; our staffs have been close forever. But it means a lot to get this done at home, and in just the second game of the season. Looking at the schedule, I didn’t know. ... I had a lot of friends that wanted to be here, and I told them I sure hoped they didn’t have to come to too many games.”