Road to the Dome: LHSAA Division I State Championship Game Recap
by Jace LeJeune
What a great weekend it was for Louisiana high school football fans! Over three days, 18 of the state’s best teams battled it out for the title of being state champions. These teams worked all spring, summer, and fall for a chance for this moment. In the end, nine teams came out as state champions. It was a long journey to the Dome and it was one full of exciting moments as well as ups and downs, but these state championship teams finished the long winding journey on top. Now, the teams come home with a state championship trophy. No matter if these players go on to play collegiate football or if they end their careers at the high school level, these players will not forget what it meant for their team to hold up a state championship trophy. For the teams that lost this weekend, there is nothing to hang their heads about. They got to a point in which a lot of other teams would have dreamed about reaching. Over the course of the week, we will recap each and every game that went down over the weekend. There is still a lot going on in the football world as bowl games will be fixing to start, the NFL regular season is about to come to an end, and there is still a lot of All-Star games that will be going on at the high school level, but we will have to wait until next season to see Friday night football once again. As we wrap up the 2017 Louisiana High School Football season, we will give our analysis of all that went on during the weekend. Today, we will talk about the seventh game of the LHSAA Prep Classic which was the Division I State championship game between John Curtis and Catholic B.R.
Division I State Championship Game Matchup: #2 John Curtis Christian Patriots (11-2) vs. #4 Catholic High B.R. Bears (11-3)
Final Score: 20-14 Catholic B.R.
Game Recap: The Division I state championship featured two of the state’s blue blood high school football programs in the John Curtis Patriots and the Catholic High B.R. Bears. It seemed that this is another state championship appearance for legendary head coach J.T. Curtis. In fact, this is the Patriots’ 36th state championship appearance, but it has been actually a drought for the Patriots, who are used to making the trip to the Superdome every single year. It has been since the 2014 season that the Patriots made the state championship and they have not won a state title since 2013. J.T. Curtis and the Patriots head in the game trying to end the streak and capture the program’s 27th state championship. Meanwhile, the Catholic High B.R. Bears made a state championship appearance in 2015 after 25 years of not making it to the Superdome. The Bears were able to win the state championship for the first time in program history and under the guidance of Dale Weiner. Now, just two years later, the Bears are back in the Superdome, but this time, it is under the leadership of first year head coach Gabe Fertitta, who was the offensive coordinator during the Bears’ first state championship run. Just like in the 2015 season, the Bears were coming off a semi-final win against Evangel Christian Academy and were then trying to defeat a New Orleans powerhouse football program in Archbishop Rummel. Now, their next challenge was to defeat the best football program in Louisiana football history in the John Curtis Christian Patriots. As expected, both defenses showed why they were two of the best defenses in the state as both offenses could not find a way to put any points on the board. However, both teams had opportunities to do so. On the Patriots’ first drive, John Curtis sophomore QB Collin Guggenheim threw a deep pass to senior WR Tyrone Leggette, who seemed to be on his way for a touchdown, but the ball was stripped by Catholic High senior DB Patrick Mensah at the one yard line and the ball was recovered by Catholic High senior DB Tim Morgan. Meanwhile, the Bears had a chance at two field goal attempts from Preston Stafford, one from 53 yards out and the other from 31 yards, but both kicks were not able to get between the crossbars. Things started to get really interesting in a game that any type of scoring was necessary. After forcing another John Curtis punt, Mensah tried to make a play on the return, but he immediately lost the ball and the Patriots’ senior OLB/SS Rhyen Gilmore jumped right on the football in the end zone for what seemed like a touchdown. The Patriots players and fans were celebrating as if it was a touchdown, but Mensah, Fertitta, and the rest of the team knew the rules because that rule went against them in an earlier game this season in a loss against East Ascension. In high school, anytime the ball is muffed and hits the end zone, the ball is ruled dead. Even though the Patriots did not agree with the ruling, it was the correct call by the officials on the field based on that ruling. Thus, it became a touchback for Catholic instead of seven points for John Curtis. The first actual touchdown of the game occurred later in the second quarter when Catholic junior QB Cameron Dartez found senior WR Austin Hood for a 65 yard touchdown to break the scoreless game open. On the play, Dartez’ pass was a little behind Hood. That allowed the John Curtis secondary to slow down a little bit, but Hood adjusted to the football and kept running scoring the touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. That was the score heading into halftime. The Patriots had their best drive of the game on the opening possession of the second half driving the ball down the field in only the way the Patriots know how on a 10 play 67 yard drive to tie the game at seven. Guggenheim was able to run it in from 19 yards out to tie the game at seven. Late in the third quarter, the score was still tied at seven. That was when Mensah tried to make a play once again in the punt return game and this time he successfully made the play aggressively going after the punt in the air and racing off with the ball for a 50 yard return to set the Catholic offense inside the five yard line. The Bears offense was able to take advantage with their running back Beau Griffon who punched it into the end zone from two yards out to regain the lead at 14-7. However, the Patriots did not back down as with their backs to the wall, the defense stepped up with J.T. Curtis’ grandson Jay Curtis deflecting a Dartez pass, which was intercepted by Cade Beloso to set the Patriots in good field position. Then, the Patriots capitalized with a very impressive 15 yard touchdown run by Darryan Washington to tie the game once again at 14. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bears’ offense had a nice response after turning the ball over on their previous drive going on a 15 play 67 yard drive to set up a Preston Stafford field goal attempt. After missing his first two attempts, the third attempt was the charm as the Bears took a 20-17 lead. Now, the John Curtis split back veer offense, which is so accustomed to playing with the lead, had to make a long drive throwing the football. As a result, Catholic senior LB Kael Howard made a very athletic play intercepting Guggenheim and giving the offense a chance to ice the game away. However, the Patriots held Stafford to another field goal to make it a six point lead for the Bears with a minute and 13 seconds left to go. Now, both the Patriots and the Bears knew what John Curtis had to do on this last drive. Just like Mensah set the tone on the first play of the game forcing a John Curtis fumble, he ended the game in forcing a key defensive turnover, but this time, it came on an interception. That sealed the game for the Catholic High Bears, who held on to win their second state championship in three years. In Gabe Fertitta’s first year, he led the Bears to a state championship victory against one of the biggest names in high school football in the John Curtis Patriots. They also won that game in the same fashion that the Patriots were able to win their 26 state championships, which is run a ball controlled offense, play really good defense, and win the field position battle in special teams. The Bears were able to win in all three phases to add another state championship trophy to their trophy case. For the John Curtis Patriots, this is the first time that a senior class has not won at least one state championship in over 40 years. Still, this is a senior class that has accomplished a lot and has nothing to be ashamed of as the group appeared in two state championship appearances and has won 80% of the games they played in. They will certainly be back again to try and capture their 27th state championship next season.
Play of the Game: There could have been a couple of plays that could be in the running including the Patrick Mensah 50 yard punt return that set up the second Bears touchdown, but I am going to have to go with a punt return that had a huge impact on this game for other reasons. Mensah was trying to make a play, but misjudged the football. The ball landed in the end zone and was recovered by John Curtis’ Rhyen Gilmore for what seemed to be a touchdown. However, LHSAA rules state that anytime the ball is muffed and hits the end zone, the ball is ruled dead. That ruling took potentially seven points away in a game that was a 20-14 final score. Who knows which ways the game could have gone if the rule did not exist.
Catholic Player of the Game: The MVP award went to Cameron Dartez. The junior QB showed a lot of poise in the biggest game of his upcoming career not making any crucial mistakes to cost his team and managing the offense. Dartez finished completing 22 of 31 passes for 206 yards a touchdown and an interception. Even though Dartez won the MVP award chosen by the media, I would say senior DB Patrick Mensah deserved the most valuable player award. Mensah played in a couple of huge plays that helped the Bears seal the win. First, he caused a fumble that looked like it was going to be a John Curtis touchdown. Then, he affected game on special teams having a nice 50 yard touchdown to set up a touchdown and then finally, he iced the game with the game winning interception. Mensah did everything except play on the offensive side of the football, but he was the dynamic player the Bears needed in order to get their second state championship.
John Curtis Christian Player of the Game: John Curtis sophomore QB Collin Guggenheim was very impressive even in the loss. He actually had some nice runs against the Catholic High defense including a 19 yard touchdown run and he did this with a broken index finger injury on his throwing hand that he suffered in the second quarter.
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