Jai Williams and Jamar Barber were in a situation neither was comfortable with when the clock ran out on the 2017 season.
Thanks to injuries, Ascension Catholic’s prolific running back duo could only watch as Lafayette Christian clinched a 10-0 win over the Bulldogs in the Division IV title game. The only time either player wants to watch the Division IV final this time is on a replay days after it is over.
“We need to play our best game this season,” Williams said. “And we need to hold on to that feeling we had last year when the game ended and use it as motivation. None of us want to feel that way again.”
The second-seeded Bulldogs (12-1) meet No. 4 LCA (13-0) in the Division IV title game for the second straight season. The game set for 3:30 p.m. Thursday is one of two title-game rematches to open the three-day Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Barber suffered a broken nose and other injuries in an auto accident on his way to school the day before the game last December. He made the most of being on the sideline in street clothes by offering encouragement and advice.
Williams, the son of former ACHS and LSU running back Germaine Williams, was the Bulldogs' title-game MVP even though he did not play in the second half. He ran for 87 first-half yards before suffering a concussion while making a tackle following an LCA interception.
“I still thought we had everything we needed to win even without me and Jai,” Barber said. “It didn’t work out for us last year. We are playing them (Lafayette Christian) again, but to me it really doesn’t matter who we play. We want to win this one.”
The 2018 season has brought challenges and a new resolve. The Bulldogs missed a couple of chances to score another TD in a 22-19 loss to Southern Lab in District 6-1A action. ACHS came back two weeks later and notched a 12-7 win over Class 1A finalist Kentwood in another 6-1A game.
“I think being confident is one of the differences between last year and this year,” Williams said. “We had confidence last year, but not as much in every game. We have been convinced we will win every game this year. I think we are more focused.”
Barber and Williams have again been a big part of ACHS' success. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Williams has seemingly taken his game to another level as a junior. He has rushed for 2,668 yards — an average of 222 yards per game — with 32 touchdowns. Barber (5-8, 165) has been slowed by injuries that caused him to miss five games. The senior has 993 yards on 95 carries with 14 TDs.
In 1A football, most starters also play defense. The duo has made its mark there too. Barber plays defensive back and has 38 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Williams also is a linebacker who has 95 tackles with 11 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
“We always pick each other up and the team,” Williams said. “I had to take on more when Jamar was injured. He did the same thing when I was injured and missed the White Castle game.”
Williams and Barber both think Lafayette Christian has improved since last season. That does not alter what they say the Bulldogs need to do.
“We have to play our game, plain and simple,” Barber said.