There are no LHSAA football state championship trophies in the trophy case at Riverside Academy yet.
The Rebels look to finally change that Friday.
Top-seeded Riverside (11-1) plays No. 3 Notre Dame (13-0) at 1:30 p.m. for the Division III championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
But to end their title drought, the Rebels will have to find a way to score against the Pioneers’ tough defense that has allowed just 49 points all season.
Eight of the Pios’ wins have been shutouts.
“Their defensive stats are what jump off the board at you,” Riverside coach Bill Stubbs said. “They are playing lights out. They fly to the ball, and they like to do something when they get there. They play sound, and there aren’t many holes out there.”
The Rebels, riding an 11-game winning streak, are averaging 36.3 points per game.
“This year with our schedule, we’ve played plenty of tough defenses,” senior receiver Herb McGee said. “Every defense you play, they always have a weak spot. I think we found their weak spot. But it all comes down to execution.”
The toughest defense the Rebels have faced this season was perhaps in the season opener, a 29-28 loss to John Ehret, which is playing in the Class 5A semifinals.
Stubbs offers this comparison of the two defenses.
“Athletically, they are not the same,” Stubbs said. “But from a technical standpoint, Notre Dame is as good as any defense we’ve played this year. They are as good as advertised. They don’t make mistakes. They are where they are supposed to be and doing what they are supposed to do.”
Riverside will rely on an passing attack led by quarterback Jared Butler. His primary receivers are McGee and Tyler Gauthier. Brandon Sanders (1,070 yards) leads the ground attack.
“When you have a team that can run it and throw it, now you have a serious challenge,” Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook Jr said. “You’ve got to figure out if you can take something away. You would like to make a team one dimensional if you can and give yourself a better chance. They’re probably the most balanced team we’ve played as far as having the ability to throw and run it.”
Notre Dame is going for the school’s fifth title and first since 2009.
Cook is taking Notre Dame to the Dome for the seventh time in 18 years with titles in 2000 and 2009.
Riverside, meanwhile, is playing in the championship game for the first time since 2000. That just so happens to be the same year Stubbs won a state title when he was coaching at Salmen. He knows ending the drought won’t be easy.
“They play football like it’s supposed to be played,” Stubbs said. “They play old-school football. Let’s just maul folks. They are not real flashy and aren’t going to give you 15,000 different formations or run many plays. They are going to just try to push you down the field. We are going to have to try to hold up to that.”