Notre Dame knew full well regular season results mean very little when you step onto the turf at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. A year ago, after cruising to a 37-0 victory over Catholic-New Iberia four games into the season, the Pioneers entered the home of the Saints for a rematch in the Division III state title game and left with a 33-16 loss, erasing their dreams of a perfect season and capturing the sixth state championship trophy in program history.
So when Notre Dame again emphatically shutout the Panthers, 49-0, early this regular season, Pioneers head coach Lewis Cook knew his players would have to be on their toes in Thursday’s title game rematch.
Surrendering an 83-yard touchdown scamper to Catholic quarterback Trenayvion Amos on the first play of the game made it clear.
“Having won the Week 4 game a year ago and then getting whooped pretty good this time last year, and then to go down Week 4 and get a big win again, you have to wonder if the gris gris is on again,” Cook said. “But we were determined all year long, and these kids were on a mission, and they completed that last mission tonight. They couldn’t end it in a better way.”
Armed with a hard-nosed ground game and another opportunity to finish off an undefeated season, the Pioneers finished what they started, dethroning Catholic with a 42-21 victory Thursday night to capture the 2018 Allstate Sugar Bowl LHSAA Division III state championship.
Senior running back Noah Bourgeois headlined the Pioneers’ sixth state title, rushing for 162 yards on 23 carries for three touchdowns to earn Most Valuable Player honors for Notre Dame.
After Pioneers junior quarterback Ben Broussard tied things up on their first possession, scampering into the endzone on a 22-yard dash around the left side, Bourgeois followed suit just over three minutes later. His own 22-yard score on the ground, bulldozing through the line before a swift cutback left, gave the Notre Dame a 14-7 lead with 5:59 left in the first quarter, one they wouldn’t surrender.
With just under six minutes to go in the first half, Pioneers junior tailback C.J. Thibodeaux plowed through the middle, paused and found a hole in the left side of the line from 15 yards out to give his team a 21-7 lead.
After the teams exchanged interceptions, Catholic had an opportunity to close within a single score before halftime, but on 4th-and-2 from the Notre Dame 31-yard-line, Amos’ pass fell incomplete.
To open the third quarter, the Pioneers made them pay. Off Thibodeaux’s 26-yard run from midfield, Broussard found tight end Thomas Bellard over the middle for a 17-yard score and a 28-7 lead. Though the Panthers scored off Amos’ 1-yard run the following drive, the Catholic defense couldn’t stop Bourgeois and Broussard enough times to get back in the game.
“We knew we had a big mountain to climb,” Catholic head coach Brent Indest said. “I think No. 16 (Bourgeois) is pound-for-pound one of the best players I’ve ever coached against.”
Thibodeaux finished with 95 yards on the ground for Notre Dame, while Bellard broke open a pair of big runs for 40 and 35 yards on his only carries. Broussard rushed for 62 yards on 12 carries and finished 5-for-8 passing for 74 yards.
For Catholic, Amos compiled 139 yards on the ground on 21 carries while finishing 8-for-15 passing for 139 yards. His dash down the left sideline to open Thursday’s game was a product of two weeks of preparation, giving the Panthers an opportunity to weave in a couple wrinkles that initially caught Notre Dame off-guard.
But even Indest knew it may not be enough.
“I told one of my buddies we might score on the first play, but they’re so smart, they’re not going to give that to you over and over,” he said. “I think we woke a sleeping giant last year in this game. I think he (Cook) coached with a chip on his shoulder.
“Last year, I thought they weren’t doing as much, but they came out in that first game this year, and they had blood in their eyes.”