This much is true — Ouachita Christian and Sterlington are heated rivals on the field.
And like most rivalries, the fans don’t especially enjoy being linked in any capacity. That’s just how it goes in sports, even if you respect your rival or not.
Perhaps what follows can serve as an exception.
Because the schools have one thing in common most schools around the country do not: A quarterback with the last name "Clowers" defeated a heavy favorite in the state championship game. And the rival teams did it two years apart.
“I couldn’t imagine a much bigger upset than us beating Southern Lab,” said former OCS quarterback Chance Clowers. “Everybody was picking Southern Lab to beat us. They had like nine (FBS) players on their roster. When they stepped on the field the turf tilted. I don’t think there’s ever been a bigger upset in the Dome. And then my brother’s playoff run happened… That’s the most enjoyable/miserable football I have ever watched.”
Many Sterlington fans might agree with that statement. While OCS won by an average of 35 points throughout the 2014 playoffs, including a jaw-dropping 52-6 victory against heavy-favorite Southern Lab in the Division IV State Championship Game, the Panthers’ string of playoff wins in 2016 accelerated the heart rate of every Panther fan in attendance.
After the Panthers blew out Pickering to open the playoffs, Sterlington won a shootout with Kinder (49-42), outlasted Many in triple overtime (40-37) and stopped Madison Prep on a two-point conversion to win a state championship (28-27). Three consecutive narrow wins had to make all hardcore Panthers a nervous wreck, just like it did the former Eagle quarterback. Good thing Sterlington’s quarterback was unfazed. In reflection, Carson believes part of that had to deal with him reliving a familiar storyline.
“When I was a freshman, I got to go watch (Chance) beat Southern Lab in the dome before we played our playoff game,” Carson remembered.
Perhaps that explains the poise Carson had in the most uptight situations. Former Sterlington head coach Jason Thompson sees it a different way.
“I know their daddy,” Thompson said. “All of those Clowers are extremely competitive. I didn’t get to keep up with Chance as much because I was kind of wrapped up in our own bubble here at Sterlington, but I’ll tell you this about Carson — that’s the most competitive kid I’ve ever coached.”
Bo and Kori Clowers had two ball-obsessed boys to follow from one field to the other. And they’re still doing it today with Carson continuing his collegiate baseball career at Shelton State Community College.
Baseball, football, whatever ball they could find in the yard, it didn’t matter. The Clowers brothers grew up competing against one another, and at the expense of stating the obvious, that meant little brother had to toughen up.
“I remember one time we were in the garage, and I was probably 10 so he may have been 8,” Chance said. “I had this metal aluminum baseball bat that I wanted to try out. It was raining so we couldn’t go outside and play baseball. So he tossed the baseball to me in the garage and I hit a line drive right back at him. It knocked his two front teeth out. He definitely had to get tough early on.”
Chance couldn’t help but laugh at the differences between he and his brother. The elder Clowers brother always had a little more flare to his game, while Carson took a less eccentric approach. Their style of play reflected that. Chance orchestrated a pass-heavy offense at OCS, while Carson operated the old-school veer that offensive coordinator Bobby Breen ran, himself, as a player during West Monroe’s 1993 state championship run.
Neither Chance nor Carson ever lacked confidence, though, and that was the key.
Before either player got an opportunity to start as a signal-caller, Chance was a talented backup looking for an opportunity to play. As the 2014 season inched closer, Chance had to face the reality that he very well might not play his senior season at Neville High School, as his best friend J.T. Jackson was primed for the position. Jackson and Chance had one of the most competitive quarterback battles in the state, but time was of the essence for Chance.
“Me and J.T. were competing the whole time, and I just didn’t want to take a chance of sitting my whole high school career when I feel like I’m a good enough player to be playing,” Chance said. “Dad was really good to talk to about that. He was like, ‘You know you’re good enough. You should be playing somewhere.’ I landed at OCS, and it couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Chance and Jackson stayed close and remain good buddies to this day, as each got their fairy tale ending. That’s right, the former teammates hoisted state championship trophies with different schools at their respective season's conclusion. Before Chance ever got to claim his own state title, he was a part of some growing pains with the Eagles.
“We had a good season,” Chance said. “But we had three losses spaced out. It was kind of weird because we’d win, win, win and think we’re on a roll and then lose a game. But the playoffs were a different feel. Our defense really stepped up.”
OCS hung 38 points in back-to-back weeks to set up a showdown with a Southern Lab team that had several prospects heading to play at the FBS level. Sound familiar? As expected, the Eagles were a heavy underdog, and even the local media were picking against the Eagles. Chance certainly remembered that part.
The game started just about as poorly as it could have for the Eagles, and for Chance in particularly. Chance threw an interception early into the ballgame. He came back to the sideline in a bit of a panic, but his coaches settled him down.
“Coach (Drew) Vidrine looked at me and said it was just one play and started laughing,” Chance said. “That really took the edge off. I went out there and we did our thing the rest of the game.”
Chance completed 12-of-21 passes for 204 yards, but he scored five touchdowns in the Eagles’ 52-6 victory against the Kittens in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. That was good enough to earn Chance MVP honors, and OCS head coach Steven Fitzhugh had high praise for Chance after the game.
"He was on the money today," Fitzhugh told The Ouachita Citizen after the game.
As Chance earned MVP honors in the championship game in an underdog role, his younger brother was watching in the stands as a young wide receiver for Sterlington. Carson had yet to transition to quarterback with the Panthers, and little did he know, he’d be pulling off a similar act in just a few years.
In order to get there, he’d have to perform his own heroics, especially in the second round of the playoffs. While Sterlington has opened the offense up throughout the years, the Panthers’ bread-and-butter was, is and will continue to be smash-mouth football brought to you by the ol’ faithful veer. It’s a style fans in this area are very familiar with, as numerous schools around the parish have won multiple titles utilizing that brand of offense. So call it old school, if you want. And if you want to run an old school type offense, you need a throwback player as the signal-caller. Carson fit that mold and then some.
“I think Carson was about 5’9” and 140 pounds when he played for us,” Thompson said. “But in his brain, he was 6’5”, 240 pounds.”
Not only was Carson a purveyor of the traditional option offense, he was also an accurate passer when the Panthers needed him to be.
He had to showcase that in full when Sterlington beat Kinder in a 49-42 shootout in the second round. Carson was 8-of-11 for 254 yards, and like his brother, scored five total touchdowns in an offensive explosion. Back-and-forth, Sterlington and Kinder exchanged scores all the way to the end. Kinder tied the game with 33 seconds to play, and fate revealed that was too much time left on the clock for Carson and Peyton Kemp. Carson, who had previously connected with Kemp on an 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter, found Kemp again on a 51-yard strike with 14 seconds left to knock off the defending Class 2A State Champions.
“That was my favorite game,” Carson said. “Everybody’s favorite game is the Many game, but that was my favorite because it was so awesome. I didn’t get nervous. It was fun to play in. I love those types of situations. We threw the bomb with (14 seconds left) to win the game, and it was like no way did they let (Kemp) get behind their defense.”
Most teams get a dramatic victory like that in the playoffs once every two or three years. Not Sterlington. The Panthers had three in a row, and some will argue the games got more intense each and every week. When Sterlington traveled to Many, the Panthers were an underdog on the road against the top-ranked Tigers.
However, sophomore Landon Green connected on an 18-yard field goal in triple overtime to beat the No. 1 seed and clinch Sterlington’s first appearance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since 2003. And nobody had a better view of it in the stadium than Carson.
“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t mess up the hold,” Carson said. “Time slowed down. It was like time stood still as that kick went up.”
The 40-37 victory brought Sterlington face to face with a Madison Prep team that had a jaw-dropping 13 Charger players that signed with colleges during the 2017 National Signing Day. Madison Prep’s offensive line came in at an average of 6’2” and 310 pounds. But Sterlington didn’t care. The Panthers had been through the fire and emerged as champions on the other side. That night would be no different.
“I knew we were good enough, and if we executed, I knew we could win,” Carson said. “I knew they outweighed us by like 100 pounds or whatever, stuff like that. I didn’t worry about all that. Once you’re on the field, you have to make plays. I’ve always been the smaller person, so size doesn’t really matter to me. Whoever has more heart, whoever is more mentally tough, that’s who wins the game.”
Behind Sterlington’s bench, a sea of blue unified and chanted “STP” (something to prove) as a Ty Walker 5-yard touchdown reduced the Panthers’ lead to 28-27 with 44 seconds remaining. No doubt about it — the Chargers were going for the win, and the Panthers weren’t caught by surprise.
At the snap, defensive lineman Noah Weatherly led a surge and several Panthers followed to stop running back James short of the goal line. A recovered onside kick and two victory formations later, Sterlington’s three-game run of dramatic nail-biters culminated in a 2A state title.
Clowers finished the game with 57 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 10 carries to earn MVP honors just like his brother did two years before.
From playing in the backyard to establishing themselves as MVPs on the grandest stage for Louisiana high school football, the Clowers brothers had a winning edge that very few had before them.