Kentwood’s football program spent 364 days waiting for redemption.
Salvation arrived Thursday afternoon when the Kangaroos proved nothing short of dominant in rolling to a 40-21 victory against top-seeded and previously unbeaten Oak Grove in the Class 1A state championship game of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Quarterback Terrell Hookfin Jr. accounted for four touchdowns and 348 of Kentwood’s 422 yards with his passing, running and receiving to earn Outstanding Player honors, but the Kangaroos junior did not lack for help as the Tangipahoa Parish school recorded its ninth state title one year following a runner-up finish to West St. John.
“(Winning) is a team thing,’’ Hookfin said after completing 17 of 26 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns in addition to rushing for 48 yards and a score on seven attempts and a catching a 36-yard touchdown from LSU-commitment Trey Palmer on a throwback pass. “There is no ‘I’ in team. We’ve got a lot of special players. I didn’t win (Outstanding Player honors). The team won it.’’
Among those special players were Palmer who accounted for 116 yards and two touchdowns as a Wildcat quarterback and receiver, running back Larry Carter who rushed for a pair of 1-yard touchdowns and wide receivers Edward Magee and Radarrian Robbins who caught scoring passes of 11 and 61 yards from Hookfin.
Defensively, the Kangaroos limited the Tigers to 161 yards and one offensive touchdown while producing four turnovers via two interceptions and two fumble recoveries to win their second state title in four seasons.
Third-seeded Kentwood (12-2) won its fourth straight playoff outing after losing its final two regular-season games while playing minus Palmer who missed those losses and the playoff opener with a high ankle sprain. The Kangaroos seniors also won their second state title in four seasons.
“Last year left a bad taste in our mouth with the turnovers and the penalties,’’ Kentwood coach Jonathan Foster II said in reference to a 20-14 loss to West St. John in the 2017 final. “It was uncharacteristic of ’Roo football.
“But we knew we had a great team coming back. The seniors were motivated. They were hungry. A lot of teams get complacent with success, but these boys didn’t. They fought. I’m so proud of them.’’
That fight began a week ago, when the Kangaroos rallied from a 14-0 deficit at Haynesville to record a 20-14 semifinals victory that produced the program’s third state final appearance in four seasons.
“This started last week when we were down 14-0,’’ Foster said. “(The players) never gave up. They showed an attitude that they were going to keep fighting. And (Thursday) we came out and played lights out. You take away those two turnovers for touchdowns (by Oak Grove) and we played lights out football.’’
Kentwood countered Oak Grove’s defensive might with two fumble recoveries by middle linebacker Bryce Cooper and interceptions by Magee playing strong safety and cornerback Anthony Holden. Cooper and defensive end Kejuan Magee also forced fumbles.
Those two interceptions and a Cooper fumble recovery resulted in three of Kentwood’s six touchdowns. Magee’s second-quarter interception and Cooper’s first fumble recovery in the third period ignited a run of three unanswered touchdowns by the Kangaroos that produced a 33-14 advantage.
Additionally, Cooper and Palmer, who also played safety, each recorded a team-leading nine tackles.
“Defensive is my baby and I’m a firm believer (that) if (the other team) doesn’t score, (it) doesn’t win,’’ Foster said. “We pride ourselves on playing defense.’’
Top-seeded Oak Grove (13-1) lost for the first time since having its 2017 season ended by a 19-7 loss to the Kangaroos in the state semifinals. The Tigers were making their first final appearance since 2014.
Cornerback/running back Otis Moore was named Oak Grove’s Outstanding Player after scoring the Tigers’ first two touchdowns via an interception return of 31 yards on the first play from scrimmage and a 4-yard run near the end of the first quarter. Moore’s touchdown run produced Oak Grove’s final lead at 14-13 through one period.
Strong safety Ladarius Ward forced and returned a fumble 44 yards for Oak Grove’s final score.
Hoofkin paced a 111-yard rushing attack with a team-leading 48 yards on seven attempts that included a 4-yard scoring run for Kentwood’s final touchdown. Palmer completed both of his pass attempts for 47 of the Kangaroos’ 311 yards passing and the touchdown to Hookfin, caught three passes for 40 yards and rushed for 29 yards on eight carries.
“We knew we were going up against a lot of team speed in Kentwood,’’ Oak Grove coach Ryan Gregory said. “People underestimate how well-coached they are because of that speed. They fly to the football. Their execution was sound. We knew we had to make some big plays.
“I thought our kids played great. I don’t fault them a bit. Their effort was outstanding. This team has been great all year. This doesn’t change the fact that we have a great team. All it changes is that we got beat by a really great team.’’