NEW ORLEANS — Ouachita Christian found redemption on the green and black gravel turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday.
Eagles coach Steven Fitzhugh and his players said they felt sick when they lost the Class 1A state championship game to White Castle in the dome last year.
The team from Monroe has been steamrolling through Class 1A this season in an effort to make up for the state championship it thought it should have won.
Thanks to a big first quarter and their usual assortment of big plays and clutch defense, the Eagles defeated West St. John 23-7 to win the Class 1A state title and an undefeated season.
“It’s special to be back here today and walk off with a victory,” Fitzhugh said.
Top-seeded Ouachita Christian (15-0) finished the season having scored more than 40 points in 13 of its 15 games, including four of its five playoff games.
Eagles’ running back Colby Webb, who rushed for 61 yards and one touchdown on eight carries, said he and his teammates had one mission this season and that was to be champions.
“This is a great feeling,” Webb said.
Ouachita Christian lost to White Castle 32-20 in the Class 1A state championship game last year.
“We felt we had a lot of mistakes in that game,” Fitzhugh said.
But this time it was Ouachita Christian that benefited from another team’s mistakes as it jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, led by big plays from receiver Mark Laird.
The Eagles took the opening possession of the game and drove 53 yards on five plays for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. The possession was set up by a 34-yard kickoff return by Josh Greer. It was ended when Laird ran around left end for an 8-yard touchdown on an end-around-play.
“We were a little bit nervous in the beginning,” West St. John coach Robert Valdez said.
Ouachita Christian increased its lead to 14-0 after quarterback Braden Bristo ran up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown on the team’s second possession. The big play of the four-play, 41-yard drive came when Bristo rolled right and threw a 41-yard pass to Laird, who out-leaped West St. John defensive back Jairus Moll to make the catch.
Junior Luke Albritton increased the score to 17-0 when he hit a 26-yard field goal on the team’s third possession of the game.
Ouachita Christian led 17-0 and outgained West St. John 161 to minus-32 yards in the first quarter.
“We couldn’t get it right, and they were all the way right,” Valdez said.
Then the West St. John defense settled down. The Rams shut out Ouachita Christian in the second quarter and held it to minus-6 yards total offense on 16 plays.
West St. John’s hard work defensively was rewarded when quarterback Austin Howard scrambled around and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Lawrence Williams to make the score 17-7 with eight seconds left in the first half.
But Ouachita Christian increased its lead to 23-7 in the third quarter when Webb took an option pitch from Bristo out of the shotgun formation and muscled his way through the West St. John defense and down the sideline for a 32-yard touchdown run.
“I didn’t know I was dragging five people,” Webb said.
West St. John had a chance to cut into the Ouachita Christian lead when it drove 66 yards on nine plays to the Eagles 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. But the Ouachita Christian defense made a goal-line stand and dropped West St. John for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-goal play.
“That goal-line stand was critical,” Fitzhugh said.
Valdez said Ouachita Christian’s championship game experience was a factor.
“They lost last year, and that drove and determined them,” he said.
And it showed.
The redemption is complete.