Southern Lab brings home Division IV state championship with 36-2 victory over St. Mary’s _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN OUBRE -- Southern Lab defensive lineman Chad Smith stops St. John's Justin Rivet in the backfield for a loss in a Division IV playoff game Nov. 14.

Marcus Randall wasn’t on the sideline when Southern Lab lost to Ouachita Christian in the Division IV championship game last season.

But the first-year SLHS coach knows plenty about that game. More importantly, he knows how it’s prepared his team for another chance at a state title.

“This is something these guys have waited for since last year,” Randall said. “They’ve marinated in what happened. It’s been business like in the playoffs, but this week I’ve had to slow them down.

“They’re so hyped up and maybe a little too excited. They feel like they have something to prove.”

Sixth-seeded Southern Lab (9-3) plays No. 4 St. Mary’s of Natchitoches (13-0) in the Division IV title game that kicks off the select schools portion of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic on Friday. Game time is set for 10 a.m. at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Even as last year’s resounding 52-6 loss to OCS lingers in the minds of SLHS players, the preparation is geared for a different challenge. Exit Ouachita Christian to a higher classification. Enter St. Mary’s, a team that hasn’t played for a state title since losing to Southern Lab 35 years ago in a Class 1A final.

“We’re feeling like we belong here,” St. Mary’s coach Lee Doty said. “We’ve had a lot of doubters say that our schedule was so soft this year, but our guys have played everybody that’s been in front of them. Our kids have earned this shot, nobody has given this to them.

“We’ve been playing with a chip on our shoulder all year long and this week, that’s not going to change. We’re the underdog again and we relish that role.”

Southern Lab entered the season as the prohibitive favorite in Division IV. The Kittens returned the lion’s share of their starters. Losses to Class 3A power University High, national powerhouse IMG Academy and 1A district rival Kentwood made the Kittens a lower seed.

And like St. Mary’s, which ousted top-seeded Ascension Episcopal last week, Southern Lab has played with a chip on its shoulder. The Kittens beat No. 3 Central Catholic in the quarterfinals and No. 2 Vermilion Catholic in the semifinals. Randall, the former LSU quarterback, believes the last two wins have prepared his team for St. Mary’s.

“St. Mary’s is a multiple football team,” Randall said. “They’ll run it or they’ll pass it, depending on whatever the situation is.

“Two weeks ago we played Central Catholic, a team that liked to run the ball. Last week it was Vermilion Catholic and they threw the ball. This week we get the combination.”

Randall’s team needs to dial up the right combination on offense. Quarterback Bladrick Veal has 2,043 yards passing and 11 touchowns, while Darbbeon Profit enters the game with 1,294 rushing yards and 15 TDs. Simply put, Southern Lab must use take whatever the Tigers give them, according to Randall.

St. Mary’s is led by quarterback Aaron Howell, who has 1,528 yards and 26 TDs. Josh Hickman adds 1,075 rushing yards and 14 TDs.

“They’re so fast and are definitely a team that has 5A talent playing in 1A,” St. Mary’s Doty said. “It’s a totally different team than we’ve played all year.”

It’s totally the game Southern Lab has been waiting for. SLHS hasn’t won a state title since 1996.

“They feel like this is their leave a legacy,” Randall said.