When Southern Lab football coach Nick Mitchell looks at the playoff brackets and sees the teams still remaining, there’s gleam in his eye.
Three of the Kittens’ nondistrict opponents, a district foe and scrimmage partner are still alive for their respective state championships, led by University High in the Division II title game.
What it did was reinforce Mitchell’s belief in preparing his talented team against some of the state’s best competition and the payoff comes at 10 a.m. Friday when No. 5 Southern Lab (8-5) encounters No. 6 Ouachita Christian (10-3) for the Division IV state crown at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“Four years ago our vision was to make sure we provided the kids with the opportunity to play the best football against the best competition,” Mitchell said. “If that meant extending outside of the local area into some of the tradition-rich areas of the state, that was part of the plan.”
For the second straight year Southern Lab sacrificed a potentially sparkling record for a road less traveled with five losses in their first six games.
Included in that group were setbacks against U-High, Plaquemine (4A semifinalist) and Amite (3A semifinalist), while the Kittens defeated District 6-1A rival Kentwood (1A semifinalist) and battled West St. John (1A semifinalist) in a spring scrimmage.
“It speaks volumes of the dedication of our kids,” Mitchell said. “The buy-in has been tremendous. Whatever we placed in front of them, whether they liked it or not, they did it. We played against bigger, stronger and faster teams. It put us in position where we are today.”
For the third straight year Southern Lab and OCS cross paths, but this time it’s in the state final where the Kittens are appearing for the first time since 2000. They last won a state title in 1996.
With consecutive state titles to its credit, OCS had designs on a three-peat last season until Southern Lab traveled to Monroe and came away with a 20-14 upset quarterfinal victory.
“They’re a different team, and so are we,” Mitchell said. “I’m sure there are some emotions they’re holding on to from last year they’ll bring into the game, but our emotions will be pretty high also.”
OCS’ offense has relied on the passing of Chance Clowers, who has completed 156 of 266 passes for 2,366 yards with 29 TDs and eight interceptions.
Linebackers Dorien Welch and Javahn Ferguson lead Southern Lab’s defense with 169 and 138 tackles, respectively, while cornerback Jonard Robinson has 12 interceptions and 21 pass break-ups.
Offensively, the Kittens follow the lead of quarterback Bladrick Veal (125 of 220, 1,857 yards, 20 TDs) and running back Darbbeon Profit (213, 1,744, 15 TDs).
“I do not think playing in the Superdome will take their minds off the game,” Mitchell said. “When you can line up and play against some of the teams we’ve played, for us this is another football game. Yes, it’s for the trophy but it’s another game.”