Parish rivals Lutcher and St. James high schools hadn’t played each other in football for a decade. When they finally met again on Oct. 16, the crowd was one of the largest ever.
And now there will be an encore.
Top-seeded Lutcher (13-1) plays No. 15 St. James (11-3) in the Class 3A state championship game that opens the second day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic at noon Saturday.
“It had been so long since we played that this actually makes sense,” Lutcher coach Tim Detillier said. “We get to play twice in one year. It’s a big deal for both schools and for St. James Parish.
“It wouldn’t matter St. James and Lutcher played in China, or on the moon, or in the Superdome. It will be emotional. It will be competitive, and I can’t think of a better way to end the season.”
The Lutcher-St. James game is part of a three-game session that closes out the LHSAA’s two weekends of football championships at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. With nearly 7,000 advance tickets sold by the two schools, there’s the expectation of a large crowd.
Yes, there are plenty of other expectations. Lutcher seeks its first state title since 2008 in its return to Class 3A after a stint in 4A. St. James won its last title in 3A in 1979 and was the 2A runner-up in 2007.
It’s hard to expect anything different from two teams with two highly regarded quarterbacks and two coaches with a deep connection.
“This is a game people in St. James Parish have wanted to see … Lutcher playing St. James for a state title,” St. James coach Dwain Jenkins said. “When (Lutcher) dropped back down to 3A, we looked at it and realized this was possible. For a while, it didn’t look like it would happen.”
After a season-opening loss to West St. John consecutive setbacks in October to Lutcher and De La Salle, St. James got it going.
“We lost games to three really good teams and reached a point where we had decide which way we were going to go. This group stayed together and got better,” Jenkins said.
The Wildcats got a huge boost from the return of quarterback Lowell Narcisse for the playoffs. Narcisse has played just 100 snaps this season, but the Auburn commitment is the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the nation in the class of 2017.
“(Narcisse) changes the game,” Detillier said. “He makes everybody around him better.”
Narcisse tallied more than 500 total yards in the three playoff games he played in and is a key reason fans don’t expect Lutcher to duplicate its 32-0 October win.
Contrast that the play of Lutcher’s Jontre Kirklin junior quarterback, who has 3,338 total yards and 52 touchdowns.
“If I had a vote for offensive MVP in 3A, I’d vote for Jontre Kirklin,” Jenkins said. “He’s been incredible. One big factor in that first time was us not being able to contact him.
“We missed a tackle early and (Kirklin) took it 65 yards for a touchdown. We’ve got to be able to handle situations like that better.”
Jenkins, a former Lutcher quarterback, knows Kirklin well. He first saw him as a junior high player when he was still an assistant coach to Detillier.
And Detillier? He continues to move up Louisiana’s all-time wins list with 265. He passed the River Parishes’ previous all-time leader, Reserve’s Joe Keller, and legendary Neville coach Charlie Brown this year.
For Detillier, the game is about things other than personal triumphs. How will the Lutcher defense, led by lineman Sully Laiche and linebacker Ben St. Pierre, contain Narcisse?
How will Kirklin fare a second time against a St. James defense led by linebacker Aquindas Steib and defensive back Jai Lewis?
Detillier also was a bit of prophet in advance of Friday’s practice at the Superdome. The two teams posed together for a photo deemed “perfect” on social media.
“This really is a Kodak moment for our parish,” Detillier said.