In the pantheon of John Curtis football accomplishments, winning two consecutive Catholic League championships may pale in comparison to the 26 state crowns the Patriots have won.
But the feat is not one to be discounted either. Surely not by the Patriots, who culminated a second consecutive undefeated run through District 9-5A play Saturday with a 35-0 victory against Shaw at Hoss Memtsas Stadium.
“It’s certainly (rates) at the top,’’ coach J.T. Curtis said. “You’re looking at a league with such a long history, and anybody who’s been in this community going back into the '30s, '40s and '50s knows that this competition has been highly contested for a long time. So to have an opportunity to compete and to win is certainly an honor.’’
The victory against Shaw was Curtis’ 13th straight in league play dating to its first season as a member in 2015, when the River Ridge school joined the Catholic League in response to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s splitting of the playoffs into private and public school factions.
Although that magnanimous gesture has not produced the desired results, it has ratcheted an already intense level of competition to new off-the-charts heights.
“As good as the district has been, it’s made it that much better to have that type of competition (added to) the League,’’ said Brother Martin’s Mark Bonis, who is among five head coaches who have played and coached in the Catholic League. “It’s raised the bar even higher in the Catholic League.
“When you have (added) another program of national prominence in your district, it speaks volumes for the Catholic League. This league is one of the best there is. So to win it and win it twice is doing something.’’
Not that Curtis’ achievement is unprecedented.
The Patriots, 9-1 overall and projected as the top seed when the Division I playoff bracket is released Sunday, are the ninth Catholic League member to win consecutive football championships since the league’s inception in 1955. Winning back-to-back titles has been done 21 times.
Rummel and Jesuit won five and four consecutive titles from 1999-2003 and 1957-60, respectively. St. Augustine (1977-79), Shaw (twice, 1989-91 and 1996-98) and Rummel (2005-07) also have won three consecutive championships.
The addition of John Curtis’ name to the group of repeat champions that also includes Holy Cross, Brother Martin, De La Salle and now-defunct Redemptorist is not a shock to the Patriots’ peers.
“It wasn’t like they came into the league as a bottom-dweller,’’ Rummel coach Jay Roth said. “They came in as one of the top programs in the country. So for them to have success, I’m not surprised one bit.
“I know everybody has enjoyed the competition. All the games are competitive and well-played, so I don’t think anybody is complaining about their two-year run, that’s for sure. I think everybody welcomed Curtis with open arms."
The coaches' rub lies with the LHSAA, whose public school entities have maintained the split of the state playoffs and forced the 13 Class 5A schools in the Division I pool to feed off one another rather than experiencing the cross-sectional competition of years past.
“I think what everybody is upset about — and I think Curtis would say the same thing — is that (the merger) was supposed to be, ‘Let’s put Curtis in (the Catholic League) and then hopefully we’ll get back to 5A football, 32 (public and private) teams in the playoff field in 5A," Roth said.
“The (state’s) other principals haven’t followed. That was the whole idea of doing this. That was the whole idea why Curtis agreed to go into the Catholic League, and it was the whole idea why the Catholic League agreed to take them in was to try to solve things. And that hasn’t happened.
“But with that being said, it’s still a great, competitive league from top to bottom.’’
J.T. Curtis echoed Roth's sentiments.
“Jay’s point is well-taken,’’ he said. “And if this (split) is truly about two teams (Curtis and Evangel) — and this is what was talked about for a long time — we wouldn’t be in this situation today. But (the divide) really goes much deeper than that.
“I think it goes to a feeling of, 'We want to win, and whatever that takes we’ll manipulate or maneuver the situation to where we can win rather than let’s compete and the best team win.' I think anybody who looks at it from an objective perspective has got to recognize that that’s what’s happened."
With that said, none of their peers are ready to anoint the Patriots as perennial Catholic League champions. Not yet anyway.
Look at the league’s track record, they say, along with its quality of players and coaching that historically have limited champions to cyclical runs.
Look back to Curtis’ first year in the district in 2015, when the Patriots compiled a 4-2 district record to tie Brother Martin for second place behind unbeaten Rummel. The Raiders also beat the Patriots in the Division I state semifinals.
Look at the previous season, in which sixth-seeded Jesuit upset top-seeded Curtis 17-14 in the state finals after the Patriots opted to play up into the Division I bracket.
And consider as well that despite its two-year run, the majority of Curtis’ district games have been hotly contested.
“Anybody that’s been coaching for a while will tell you that it’s not surprising to see (Curtis) doing as well as they have because of the quality of players that they have and the quality of coaching that they have,’’ Jesuit coach Mark Songy said. “And that’s a credit to those guys.
“But I don’t think (Curtis was) surprised in the least when they got into the league and they found it’s going to be a fight every week. Nobody rolls over. Everyone is well-coached. Each team has a certain number of players that can hurt you.
“I just think it’s quality football when you go watch any Catholic League game. The Catholic League still is life as we’ve become accustomed to it and really since it’s existed. That’s what you expect."
“They’ve won two district championships in a row, but I don’t think that’s highly unusual with good programs,’’ St. Augustine coach Al Jones said. “They’re doing a good job, and we need to do a better job.
“I think it all comes around. That’s the good thing about this district and this league. It cycles. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. It’s Curtis’ turn right now. Somebody else is going to come up again.
“No team surprises me with what they’re able to accomplish in this district. Not to simplify anything that they’re doing, because they’re winning, but it’s not like they’re walking away with things either. It’s all good football."
Although a solid line of highly competitive traditionalists remain inside the league, no one is begrudging the Patriots their just due as they begin pursuit of their first state championship since 2013.
“To me this is where they belong," Brother Martin’s Bonis said. “People may disagree with that statement. But where else should they be? Based on the rules ... on the quality of programs in the league and our geographical (area) and the fact that this is arguably one of the best districts around the state, it makes for an ideal fit. I don’t see where else they would go."