When Catholic High-New Iberia quarterback Jason Pellerin stretched his 6-foot-4 frame over the goal line with 9:21 to play — completing a 7-yard touchdown — the Panthers found themselves locked in a 24-all tie with Calvary Baptist.
That in itself was evidence of how well the Panthers’ methodical approach on offense had worked for nearly 40 minutes of Friday’s Division III state championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“We stressed execution,” Catholic-NI coach Brent Indest said. “We’re not going to beat these guys by out-athleting them. We executed what we did.”
Top-seeded Catholic-NI relied on a clock-crunching rushing attack and threw in a little razzle-dazzle in order to keep Calvary’s defense off balance and the Cavaliers’ lethal offense off the field.
However, Calvary successfully defended its Division III title with a championship-caliber drive, consuming more than six minutes and resulted in Trevor Stephens’ 26-yard field goal with 2:38 left that enabled the second-seeded Cavaliers to win 27-24.
“They caught us, but they never passed us,” Calvary coach John Bachman said. “We were able to stay out in front, and the pressure became theirs to hang in there with us. Coach Indest is one of the best coaches and had a great game plan.”
Calvary’s talent-laded offense, led by junior quarterback Shea Patterson and Arizona-bound running back Orlando Bradford, brought in a prolific unit averaging 46 points a game.
To combat the Cavaliers potential for explosive plays and bushels of points, the Panthers’ Wing-T offense milked the majority of the play clock, ran the ball 43 times for 233 yards and held a five-minute edge in time of possession.
“We were 10-0 this season, so we knew what he was talking about and followed the game plan like we have all year,” Pellerin said of Indest. “Hanging with these guys is a pretty big honor when you see the talent they have. They’re obviously more athletic and have well-coached players.”
Catholic also featured a gifted offense with three 1,000-yard rushers who helped the team scored 50 or more points seven times and average 45 points.
The Panthers also showed their creative side to erase an early 7-0 deficit when Andre Bellefontaine raced 71 yards with a “fumble-rooskie” with 5:28 left in the opening quarter.
“Jason just takes off without any fakes,” Bellefontaine said. “Because of the respect they have for him, the defense flew to the other side of the field. I waited three seconds and picked it up. It’s not the first time I’ve seen open green grass before.”
Catholic ran that play three times for 114 yards, with leading rusher Seth Pierre (13-102) gaining 37 yards on a third-and-6 carry that led to the first of Pellerin’s two touchdowns, a 1-yard sneak, that resulted in a 17-all deadlock at the 6:03 mark of the third quarter.
“We went out there and threw everything but the kitchen sink at them,” Indest said. “It’s nice when you draw up some gadgets, and they work. We were proud of it.”
Calvary then displayed its big-play ability, retaking a 24-17 lead 33 seconds later on a 78-yard strike from Patterson to Vyon Brown.
“We knew it would be a four-quarter game; you can’t hang your head,” Pellerin said. “There was a lot of football left to be played. They punched us in the mouth, and we had to go back and score again.”
Catholic answered with a 14-play, 71-yard drive with all but 12 of those yards coming on the ground. The Panthers twice converted on third down and once on fourth down, with Pellerin capping the march with his 7-yard score and tied the game at 24.
“Our defense did a great job of holding up an offense like that,” said Bellafontaine, who gained 84 yards on 5 tries. “It was a good game and a great team we played out there. Our guys played with heart. We played the best we could. We left it all out on the field.”