Though his team will not play for another week, Catholic High coach Gabe Fertitta cautioned every coach of a high-seeded team Sunday.
“We’re playing for keeps now,” Fertitta said. “You have to take advantage of every way you can prepare. We’re on a bracket where just about every team can win on a given night. You lose … it’s over.”
The Bears (10-0) grabbed the No. 2 seed on the Division I select playoff bracket when the LHSAA released its football playoffs on Sunday. With brackets for five nonselect classes and four select divisions, there was plenty to absorb.
St. James (10-0), the area’s only other unbeaten team, also was the only one to lock down a top seed, which came in Class 3A. Other notables were two-time reigning Class 5A champion Zachary (fifth in Class 5A), East Ascension (fourth in 5A) and Ascension Catholic (third in Division IV).
“When I was scheduling our games, I never thought about a No. 1 seed, I just wanted us to get a high seed,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said. “I went with some tough regional games on the schedule and wasn’t sure how it would work out. But it did, and now we control our destiny.”
Ascension Catholic (9-0) kicks off the local playoff season. The Bulldogs host No. 14 Riverside Academy (3-7) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Donaldsonville’s Boutte Stadium. ACHS was the Division IV runner-up the past two seasons.
Other teams garnering top five seeds included two-time reigning Division II champion University (third), White Castle (third in 1A) and Madison Prep (fourth, 3A) and The Dunham School (fifth, Division III).
Some of the day's best stories involved teams not in the elite group. Jeremy Gradney knew his Istrouma team had earned a spot on the Class 4A playoff bracket under LHSAA rules as the District 7-4A co-champion. But Gradney opted for no fanfare, even though the Indians got the No. 32 seed in the school’s first varsity season since 2012 and will play at No. 1 Lakeshore (10-0).
“I knew what the rule said, but I had to be sure,” Gradney said, whose team was No. 37 in the power ratings. “It was real for me when I saw it on the TV screen. Now it’s tough that we have to play the top seed, but you know we’re proud of this and we’re getting to work now to prepare, looking at more film.”
Mentorship Academy coach Keith Woods took the opposite approach. The Sharks got shut out in their season finale at Brusly on Friday. But Woods and school administrators hosted a pairings watch party for players and their families at the school. The No. 27 Sharks make their playoff debut against sixth-seeded McDonogh 35 at 7 p.m. Friday at Pan American Stadium in New Orleans.
“Seeing our name on that bracket was special for the players and coaches,” Woods said. “It was good for us to be together and celebrate. There were lessons to learn from Friday. We’ve had the ball bounce our way a good bit, but it bounced Brusly’s way more on Friday and they played well.
“Now we have to put all that behind us and prepare. The best part is we have so much support from our administration and the school. We’re planning fan buses.”
The chance for all-local games and rematches also added a little spice. There are three all-local games, including two rematches. In the non-rematch, No. 24 Brusly (5-5) travels to ninth-seeded Donaldsonville (7-3) Friday at Boutte Stadium.
Zachary (7-2) hosts No. 28 Live Oak (6-4) for a game that is a rematch of the District 4-5A opener played in Week 6. On the Division I select side, 12th-seeded McKinley (1-9) travels to No. 5 Scotlandville (7-3) for a rematch of a nondistrict season opener.
Catholic in Division I is one of three local teams with playoff byes this week. The others are White Castle in 1A and Dunham in Division III. Catholic and WCHS await the winners of first-round games. Dunham (9-1) travels to New Orleans next week to take on No. 4 Newman (9-1) and its freshman quarterback Arch Manning.