The folks in Marrero have waited 30 years for John Ehret High School to play for a football state championship.
That drought ends at 7 p.m. Saturday when No. 9 Ehret (12-2) plays No. 2 Zachary (13-1) for the Class 5A title at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The three-decade wait may seem long, but what the Patriots have endured over just the past four years — heck, just this season alone — made the journey worth the wait.
Ehret’s seniors suffered through an 0-9 season as freshmen. And this season, the Patriots lost their dynamic starting quarterback, Caron Baham, to a season-ending knee injury on the first possession of the year. Byron James, a star running back, also went down during the season.
So it’s understandable why it took a while for it all to sink in for coach Corey Lambert last week when Mandeville’s 69-yard field-goal attempt fell short, sending his Patriots to their first title game since 1985.
“I didn’t really even know how to celebrate,” he said. “It just feels like all of this was just meant to happen. Our kids are focused. They are hungry.”
Lambert, a former Ehret quarterback, is hungry, too. He knows just how important Saturday’s game is for his hometown.
“You watch the news and see some of the things that go on in Marrero,” Lambert said. “One day, my guys can tell their families about the sacrifice and the commitments they made to get here.”
Former Ehret standouts like Kordell Stewart and Reggie Wayne will be in the Dome as the Patriots go for their third state title but first since ’85. None of this seemed possible three seasons ago, when Ehret finished 0-9 in Lambert’s first season as head coach at his alma mater. But Lambert never doubted he could get things turned around.
“I was going to clean things up and lose doing things right rather than win doing things wrong,” he said. “If you hold kids accountable, nine times out of 10 they are going to do their job, and this is where it has us now.”
That winless season didn’t faze Lambert. Losing Baham in the season opener this year did, though.
“To be honest, I was a little messed up and didn’t know what to do,” Lambert said. “My wife cried the whole weekend. I cried the whole weekend. We felt so bad for the kid.”
It took a meeting with his seniors for Lambert to figure it out: His seniors told him that he didn’t quite seem the same.
“And they were right, because I cared about Caron like my son,” Lambert said. “I would have been like that with any of my guys. I had to regroup. We all had to regroup. And we did, and we pulled it all together.”
It’s been Ehret’s stingy defense leading the way.
No team has scored more than a touchdown against Ehret’s “Red Brick Wall” in the past eight weeks. Lambert would like nothing more than to extend that streak to nine against a high-powered Zachary team led by quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., Louisiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
“I’m a firm believer that defense wins championships (and) offenses score points,” Lambert said. “I think the way our defense has been playing, if we can stay true to our reads and do what’s gotten us here and be disciplined and take care of our responsibilities, we’ll be fine.”
Ehret leans on a defense filled with highly recruited prospects. Linebacker Michael Divinity, an Under Armour All-American committed to LSU, is joined by linebacker De’Jon Harris (Arkansas), linebacker Robert Green (Army), cornerback Jarrius Wallace (Central Florida) and defensive end Kerry Starks (Grambling).
“We need to be able to complete some passes and loosen (Ehret’s defense),” Zachary coach David Brewerton said. “If we don’t, their ears will be pinned back, and they’ll be coming for us. Defensively, everywhere you look they’ve got players. You have to stay so sound in what you do. You can’t make a mistake, because they can make a little bitty mistake turn huge fast.”
Ehret is riding an eight-game winning streak, and Lambert wants this title for his seniors who bounced back from that winless season of 2012.
“They built this thing,” he said.
But more importantly, he wants it for Marrero.
“These boys have brothers, cousins, family members that are in the drug game,” Lambert said. “So when they see what my guys are doing, it gives people in the community hope. Now they see us doing this and see they can do it, too. That’s what I’m hoping for.
“Don’t get me wrong; I want the ring. But I hope this changes the mindset of the people in Marrero.”