The University High Cubs had too many weapons — including a secret one — as it manhandled Catholic High, 41-21, in a clash of Baton Rouge area football titans at Memorial Stadium Friday.
The Cubs, 3-0 and ranked No. 9 in MaxPreps national rankings, started from the first play with Christian Harris’ 100-yard return of the opening kickoff as they shot out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter. Mike Hollins pounded the Catholic defense for 174 yards and three touchdowns.
But perhaps the most significant move came in the second quarter when U-High quarterback John Gordon McKernan left the game with an ankle injury. Senior Aleksander Popov stepped in and threw two touchdown passes to stave off a Catholic rally.
“I trust my teammates and I sort of did the same thing my sophomore year when J.G. went down,” said Popov, who went 8 for 10 for 99 yards, caught two passes and delivered a 44-yard quick kick punt late in the game. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I had to knock a little rust off that first drive. But then I felt I settled in and we started moving the ball.”
With U-High leading 20-14, Popov missed his first two passes to stall his first drive but Catholic’s Braelen Morgan fumbled the punt and U-High’s Jordan Clark recovered at the Catholic 44. Popov hit Clark for 28 yards to set up a 9-yard scoring pass to Clark with four seconds left in the first half.
U-High stopped CHS on its first drive of the third quarter and then Popov engineered a 72-yard march in 10 plays. He hit Makiya Tongue for 26 yards and then hit him with a 9-yard scoring pass to make it 34-14.
“We’ve got a lot of faith in Aleksander,” said U-High coach Chad Mahaffey, whose team is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. “He came in as a sophomore (2016) and played through the entire season through the semifinals. We’re fortunate to have that kind of depth. Alexks didn’t have to play much last year. But tonight he did. He stepped up and did great.”
Harris set the tone early bolting up the middle of the field and breaking two tackles near midfield. Hollins capped the next two drives for the Cubs with TD runs of 26 and 31 yards, respectively. Catholic slowed him in the middle part of the game but he eventually wore down the Bear defense in the second half, adding a 1-yard score.
“It was great (start); the kickoff return was a huge play,” Mahaffey said. “Our kids feed off of that energy.”
Catholic, 2-1 and ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 5A, answered the Cubs' opening punch. Joshua Parker, who rushed for 66 yards on 13 carries, set up a 1-yard TD run by quarterback Cameron Dartez with a 27-yard run. Morgan set up another score with a 34-yard punt return. The payoff came on fourth down when Dartez connected with Soloman Singleton for a 34-yard TD pass.
Catholic coach Gabe Feritta lamented his team’s mistakes. Catholic had some untimely penalties and the Morgan fumble took away their momentum late in the second quarter.
“I’m proud of the way our kids competed,” he said. “When you study these guys, all the games they win against tough competition, there comes a tipping point and you have to not make the little mistakes. It’s the only way you can beat them. We made too many of those mistakes tonight.
“Hats off to them. They are a phenomenal team. I think we’re pretty good, too.”