New Roads Catholic-Pointe Coupee and Ouachita Christian kickoff the LHSAA/Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic in the Mercedes-Benz Louisiana Superdome. Starting time for the Division IV state championship game is set for noon Friday.
Seeking their first state championship since 1978, the seventh-seeded Hornets (11-2) bring an eight-game win streak into their first Superdome Classic appearance. Junior quarterback Aiden Vosburg sat out both of Catholic’s losses with an injury.
Ouachita Christian coach Steven Fitzhugh expects a bruising encounter in the championship game. While the no-frills Hornets may not be fancy, they are fundamentally sound and physical.
“Coach (David) Simoneaux does a great job,” coach Fitzhugh said. “They have the reputation of being a bunch of hard-working country boys, which is a good quality to have. They are weight room kids, and it shows on film. They play physical, and their toughness shows in the fact that they have eight kids starting both ways. It should be a good matchup.”
Catholic opened the season with a 46-22 win over DeQuincy, followed by a 34-28 loss to Ascension Episcopal, a 35-6 victory over Central Private, a 42-20 triumph over Riverside and a 31-14 defeat at the hands of Baton Rouge Episcopal. Closing out regular season play with five consecutive wins, the Hornets took care of Sacred Heart-Ville Platte (36-12), Opelousas Catholic (44-10), Westminster Christian (45-23), North Central (72-18) and St. Edmund (30-6).
In postseason play, the Hornets handled Cedar Creek 28-7, District 5-1A rival Opelousas Catholic 13-0 and Southern Lab 28-8.
Sacred Heart and Cedar Creek are the only common opponents on the Catholic and OCS schedules.
Catholic presents an entirely different brand of challenges for the Eagles, who spent the past two weeks defending air raid attacks against Calvary Baptist and Metairie Park Country Day.
Calvary quarterback Cade Hart threw for 303 yards against the Eagles, while Country Day’s Justin Ibieta rushed for 153 yards and passed for 163 in the quarterfinals.
Operating from the flexbone, the Hornets have thrown the ball only twice in their past two outings — none against Opelousas Catholic and twice against Southern Lab.
“Our defensive line has basically been able to pin their ears back and go after the quarterback the past two weeks,” coach Fitzhugh said. “We better not do that this week. We have to be very disciplined on our reads. They are content getting 3-4 yards per play. They feel like the best defense is keeping your offense off the field. They have been successful doing that to a lot of teams.”
Just because the Hornets seldom take to the air, doesn’t mean they lack an effective passing game.
Coach Fitzhugh’s alma mater, Harding University, runs the flexbone. Taking advantage of the extra week to prepare for the championship game, coach Fitzhugh has spent time studying film with his son Grant, a defensive back at Harding.
“Harding was No. 1 in the nation in rushing this season, and No. 1 in yards per catch,” coach Fitzhugh said. “They were very last in passing yardage, but they averaged 35 yards per catch. If you fall asleep one play as a defensive back, they will get you.”
Slotback Matthew Langlois is Catholic’s go-to guy.
“Langlois is their big-time playmaker,” coach Fitzhugh said.
Vosburg, fullback Collin Grezaffi and slotback Nick Carriere also figure heavily into the scheme.
“They really hang their hat on the fullback. He’s going to get the most carries. He’s a tough, hard-nosed runner,” coach Fitzhugh said. “Their quarterback makes plays. It all starts with him. No. 4 (Carriere) is another playmaker. They have four guys they lean on to make plays, and all four have been making plays for them all year.”
As with any running game, the key to success is the offensive line. Brandon Riddle, Andrew Bonaventure, Reed Lambert, Luke Torres and William Dunham are the heart and soul of the Hornets. Bonaventure, a junior, is the only non-senior of the bunch.
“Their offensive line comes off the ball lower than anybody we have played all year,” coach Fitzhugh said. “Any time you have four seniors starting on the offensive line, that’s a good scenario. They have no underclassmen in their starting lineup.”
Catholic lists seven seniors and four juniors on its starting offense, and six seniors and five juniors on defense.
As good as the Hornets are offensively, defense may be their strong suit. Catholic has allowed 15 points through three playoff games. Last week’s effort against Southern Lab, in particular, caught coach Fitzhugh’s attention.
“Southern Lab had Division I kids on both sides of the ball, and they beat them soundly,” coach Fitzhugh said. “They are a great defensive football team.”
Langlois, who doubles at cornerback, is also a mainstay on defense.
“Southern Lab had a Houston commit (Reginald Johnson), and Langlois covered him man-to-man,” coach Fitzhugh said.
Though Johnson caught a late touchdown pass to break up the shutout, Langlois had an interception as the Jaguars finished the night just 3-of-17 passing for 65 yards.
Dunham (nose guard), Lambert (linebacker) and Carriere (free safety) are among the remaining two-way standouts.
OCS (12-1), the No. 5 seed, has advanced to the state finals for the ninth time in school history, and for the first time since the 2014 championship season. The Eagles also won state titles in 1985, 1997, 2000, 2011 and 2012, while finishing runner-up in 1987 and 2010.
After easing past Arcadia 49-14 in the season opener, the Eagles suffered their only loss at the hands of Class 3A quarterfinalist Sterlington (40-19) in Week 2. Since then, the Eagles have won 11 straight at the expense of Jena (48-25), Sicily Island (54-12), Delhi (49-0), Cedar Creek (42-6), Class 1A state finalist Oak Grove (40-21), Tensas Parish (49-0), St. Frederick (41-0), Delta Charter (41-6), Sacred Heart (54-0), Calvary Baptist (49-47) and Country Day (56-41).
Friday’s game will likely come down to which team can impose its will.
For Catholic, the perfect scenario is to get ahead early, run the clock and limit possessions. OCS, which has been held scoreless in the first quarter in its previous two outings, can ill afford another slow start against the Hornets.
For OCS, the keys to victory are (1) getting off to a strong start, and making the Hornets and their ball control offense play from behind, (2) and forcing Catholic into long yardage situations on second and third down.
Linemen Grant Mashaw, Casey Cobb, Andy Weatherford, James David Miller, Garrett Folds and Avery Pilgreen, along with fullback Van David Matherne, power an OCS offense which averages 45.4 points and 389.2 total yards (234.4 rushing, 154.8 passing) per game. The group has set the tone for a running game, which averages 7.9 yards per carry, while allowing only seven sacks.
Junior quarterback Hunter Herring has taken the OCS offense on his shoulders the past two weeks. A week after passing for a career high 244 yards vs. Calvary, he rushed for a career-high 301 yards and five touchdowns against Country Day. Held to 31 yards on six carries in the first half, Herring went off for 280 yards and five touchdowns in the second half.
Herring (107 carries, 952 yards, 21 TDs) and running backs Dillon Dougan (104-903-8) and Will Fitzhugh (99-805-16) headline the Eagles’ rushing attack.
Herring has passed for 1,630 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Tristan Wiley (31 receptions, 642 yards, 7 TDs), Eli Extine (28-444-6) and Will Fitzhugh (26-452-8) are the primary receivers.
Defensively for the Eagles, ends Chris Holyfield (50 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 1 sack) and Christian Gray (62 tackles, 13 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles), and nose guard Jacob Ogden (14 tackles, 1 TFL) man the front three. OCS has overcome season-ending injuries to two starters up front — end James Forte and nose guard Henry Messinger.
Ethan Hogan (84 tackles, 12 TFL, 7 sacks), Grant Mashaw (78 tackles, 16 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 FF) and Jon Thomas Dixon (55 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks) are the linebackers, with Aidan Ham (50 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 interceptions, 2 FF) and Kade Woods (45 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 FF) at the strong safeties.
The secondary has Landon Graves (25 tackles, 4 INTs) and Walker Morris (23 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries) at the corners, and Will Fitzhugh (58 tackles, 3 TFL, 6 INTs) at free safety.
Samuel Harrell has made 50-of-67 extra points and 2-of-5 field goals with a long of 31.
In what may be an under-appreciated stat, OCS has made a gigantic improvement in its punting game after averaging 24.2 yards per try in 2018. Graves has punted 19 times for a 34.3-yard average, while pinning opponents inside the 20 on seven occasions.
Will Fitzhugh has returned 23 kickoffs for a 25.8-yard average. Extine averages 29.4 yards on eight kickoff returns and 15.3 yards on seven punt returns.
Both schools won state championships last spring — OCS in baseball, Catholic in softball.
RG—James David Miller
FB—Van David Matherne
LB—Jon Thomas Dixon
OCS Special Teams
DS—John Daniel Thomas