The John Curtis Patriots wanted this one badly.
Since 1975, only a single senior class had graduated without at least one gawdy championship ring to show for their efforts: the Class of 2018.
In last year's title game, the Patriots struggled from the outset, failing to find a rhythm against an upset-minded Catholic-Baton Rouge team that cared little about Curtis’ bulging trophy case. The senior leaders who last made the title game as freshmen didn’t come out with the same fire and execution of a traditional Curtis team that had captured 26 state titles in 42 seasons.
Saturday’s squad looked markedly different.
From the opening drive, the Patriots offense riding some variety of read-option plays their opponents had little answer for, Curtis competed with the confidence of a champion against the team that surprised them a year ago. The Patriots rode 21 points in the first quarter to a 49-7 rout in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Division I state championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
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The win gave Curtis (13-0) its 14th undefeated championship and 27th overall. Their 42-point margin is the team’s second-most ever, and the team’s 49 points was the most Curtis has scored in a title game.
The Patriots did it by taking an early lead and never letting go. After Catholic (11-2) won the toss and elected to defer to the second half, Curtis slowly, methodically grinded downfield on the legs and adept decision-making of junior quarterback Collin Guggenheim, who carried the ball six times during the nine-play, 81-yard drive that ate up 5:19 off the clock.
Senior tailback Ma’Khi Smith dashed in from 20 yards out for a 7-0 lead. Though nothing fancy, the Curtis offense’s ability to pick up early yards and bash for a couple more after the initial contact was something the Bears defense struggled with all afternoon.
Collin Guggenheim’s childhood was John Curtis football.
“You can’t let them keep falling forward for 7 or 8 yards,” Catholic coach Gabe Fertitta said. “We’d hit them after four, and they’d fall forward and end up with five or six. It was a war of attrition when you play those guys.
“You’d try to at least get a stop on first down and get them into a distance they’re not comfortable with, but we could never pin them there.”
The Patriots turned that momentum up a notch quickly. Forcing the Bears into an early third-and-long on their 15-yard-line, Catholic quarterback Cameron Dartez fired a pass behind his intended receiver along the right sideline, finding the hands of Curtis cornerback Dante Thomas, who returned it to the Bears 14. A Corey Wren run made it 14-0 two plays later, just 7:20 into the game.
Down 21-7 with 3:46 left in the first half, Catholic still had an opportunity to stay within reach. But facing fourth-and-6 at midfield with less than two minutes to go, the Bears completed a 5-yard crossing route, dashing their hopes of doubling up on scores on either end of the half.
And when the Patriots defense forced a brief three-and-out to start the third quarter, Fertitta sensed trouble.
“Going into halftime, that was part of our message,” he said. “Let’s go down and score, and none of our players blinked.
“We were ready to go, but we just couldn’t slow them down.”
Guggenheim and the offense took the ensuing punt, starting at their 18, and sucked the life out of Catholic’s fleeting hopes. Curtis plodded down the field in 17 plays, wiping 7:37 off the clock, ending with Choncee Crum scoring from 4 yards out for a 28-7 lead.
With the Bears trying to build some rhythm late in the third quarter, senior cornerback Donald Clay jumped a route on the left sideline and returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown, quickly turning the game into a rout.
Guggenheim was named the team MVP, finishing with 160 yards rushing, a touchdown and a two-point conversion, all on 28 carries. He was one of five Patriots to rush for a TD. After his late interception with under a minute to go sealed Curtis’ defeat a year ago, the junior said this one meant a little more.
“You just soak up all the memories over the years,” he said. “Your dad plays for Curtis and the guy here next to me, and then I get to play for him after watching him as a young kid. It’s a beautiful moment, tears were shed, and that’s part of it all.”