Much was made of St. James High School getting a second chance against top-seeded rival Lutcher with heralded quarterback Lowell Narcisse at the helm.
The Bulldogs were focused on second chances of their own. With title-game MVP Jontre Kirklin accounting for five touchdowns, Lutcher had more than enough firepower to run away with a 41-14 victory over No. 15 St. James in the Class 3A title game that opened Saturday’s action at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic.
“I’m just happy to be in this position,” Kirklin said. “We got a state championship.”
Lutcher (14-1) won its seventh state title and the first since winning 3A in 2008. St. James (11-4) made its first title-game appearance since finishing as the 2A runner-up in 2007. SJHS’ last state title was in 1979.
A crowd of more than 15,000 gathered in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to watch the two St. James Parish and District 9-3A rivals square off.
While the pregame hype led up to a matchup involving Narcisse, the Bulldogs were determined to play better than they did in a 32-0 win over St. James on Oct. 16.
Kirklin, the game’s other junior quarterback, made the most of his chances with 126 rushing yards on 21 carries and two TDs. He also completed 14 of 26 passes for 150 yards and three more scores.
Narcisse, who returned from a torn ACL in time for the playoffs, was St. James’ MVP. He completed 15 of 26 passes but was intercepted twice and also ran for 36 yards before suffering a knee injury in the fourth quarter as Lutcher led 41-8.
St. James coach Dwain Jenkins said the Auburn commitment would undergo an MRI to determine the severity of the injury that happened near the Lutcher sideline.
Lutcher coach Tim Detillier opted not to attend the postgame news conference, choosing instead to showcase his assistants, including defensive coordinator Craig Zeringue and offensive coordinator Cory Bourgeois, again focusing attention on those outside the spotlight.
“This team was really a special team,” Zeringue said. “All year they stayed about the same with one little blip, a loss to (Class 5A) St. Amant. We believed we could play better than we did the first time. What we did was what we’ve done all year on defense.”
Linebacker Ben St. Pierre led Lutcher’s defense with 9.5 tackles and an interception. Lineman Sully Laiche added six tackles, including two sacks. Lineman Chandon Hickerson and linebacker Aquinas Steib each had 12 tackles for St. James.
“(Lutcher) is a great football team,” Jenkins said. “We played our hardest … we deserved to be here. Hopefully our guys will continue to work and we’ll continue to build our program.”
St. James took the opening kickoff and drove 59 yards for a touchdown. Narcisse completed four passes and had an impressive 14-yard run. Narcisse tossed a 9-yard TD pass to Arron McKinley. A two-point conversion pass to DeMarcus Williams gave the Wildcats an 8-0 lead with 8:40 left in the first quarter.
Lutcher countered with a 13-play, 68-yard drive to tie it. Kirklin was just as prolific. He had a 15-yard run and a 19-yard pass to Gregory Clayton. Kirklin scored on a 6-yard run and passed to Al’Dontre Davis to tie it with 5:37 left in the first quarter.
For St. James, that first drive was as good as it got. The Wildcats didn’t have another first down in the first half. Lutcher turned the ball over on downs in St. James territory twice after that.
But the third time was the charm, thanks to the flip of field position. It also followed St. Pierre’s interception. Kirklin threw a 22-yard TD pass to Tharrin Maddie and then ran for two-point conversion. Lutcher led 16-8 with 6:06 left in the half.
The duo hooked up again — this time on a 32-yard scoring pass — that sent Lutcher into the locker room with a 23-8 lead.
More of same followed in the second half. Lutcher took the opening kick and drove 80 yards for a TD. Kirklin ran 27 yards for a score that gave the Bulldogs 29-8 lead with 9:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Dylan Recotta intercepted a Narcisse pass and returned it 11 yards for the next Lutcher TD. Kirklin capped the scoring with a 22-yard pass to Davis with 11:56 to go in the game.
Lutcher won in its first year back in 3A after a six-year 4A stint. That fact wasn’t lost on Detillier said.
“Class 3A is where we always felt like we belonged,” Detillier said. “When we won in 2008, we never got a chance to defend that title. Today was that second chance. We finally got to defend that title.”
Jenkins, the former Lutcher quarterback and assistant coach, noted, “Sooner or later, this program will get the chance to hold up a state championship trophy again.
“I wanted to win it. If I can’t win it, there’s no other person I’d rather see holding up a trophy than coach Detillier.”