Here's what you need to know for the first day of the prep football championships.
Three of the state's nine state titles will be decided today, all in the new "select" brackets . First up is Division III, featuring the private, parochial, and charter schools from class 2A. Neither team in the game has a state title to their name yet, so history will be made when Calvary Baptist takes on Archbishop Hannan.
Calvary started the year 1-4, but their four losses were at the hands of St. Thomas More, West Monroe, Parkway, and Byrd, the last two being state finalists this year in their own right in class 5A and Division I respectively.
Once they hit district play, the Cavaliers rolled, never scoring less than 39 points and giving up exactly six in each of those five games. In the playoffs, after grabbing the #2 seed and waiting out a first-round bye, they shut out #10 Opelousas Catholic 45-0 before being tested on the road in New Iberia. In a wildly entertaining game, the Cavaliers outlasted #6 Catholic of New Iberia, winning by a single point thanks in part to blocking three Panther extra-point attempts. The win punched Calvary's ticket to the Dome for the first time.
Likewise, the Hawks of Archbishop Hannan are first-timers. After two straight years of first round exits in the 1A playoffs, the move to 2A looks good on them. Hannan went 8-2 in the regular season with district losses to St. Thomas Aquinas and Northlake Christian. Still, the Hawks got seeded fourth, and their potent offense proved playoff ready. They crushed #13 Westminster 61-20, then dominated district rival Pope John Paul II 42-14 after only having collected a two-point victory over the Jaguars in the regular season.
In the semifinals, the Hawks gutted out a 12-7 win over top seed Episcopal after their defense held the Knights to just 121 total yards in the game. The win set up their matchup with Calvary for the Division III crown.
Later in the Division II title game, it'll be the state's standard-bearer when it comes to state titles taking on a team that's looking to start their own tradition when John Curtis plays University. Curtis made the move to 3A this season after winning the past two 2A titles, but it was their out-of-district schedule that grabbed attention. They went 1-1 to start the year against a pair of national powerhouses, beating Bergen Catholic of New Jersey before losing to St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida. Then they turned to the more local big dogs, again going 1-1 against a pair of NOLA's best. After a come-from-behind victory over reigning 4A champ Karr, they lost by a single point to 5A St. Aug.
District proved to be no problem for the Patriots, as they put up at least 41 points on every opponent and only once gave up more than a touchdown. Even at 7-2, Curtis earned the #1 seed in the Division II bracket, which combines the private, parochial, and charter schools from Classes 4A and 3A. After a first-round bye, Curtis blasted #8 St. Charles 48-0 and #4 Evangel 40-6 to make it to a state championship game for the 18th straight year.
Their opponent may not have the championship tradition with only two trophies in the case, the most recent from 1988, but they do have talent. The Cubs of Baton Rouge's University High, the laboratory school serving LSU, can boast a 2,000 yard rusher in Nick Brossette and a 2,000 yard passer in Manny Miles, son of LSU head man Les Miles. They can also boast an undefeated season in which they averaged nearly 45 points a game.
In the playoffs as the 2-seed, the Cub-inflicted carnage continued. After a 45-10 dismantling of #15 St. Louis, they embarked on a pair of rematches from the regular season. In the quarterfinals they got their second win of the season over Teurlings by a score of 55-30. Then, in a rematch with district rival Parkview, the Cubs improved on their previous one-score victory, throttling last year's 3A champion 58-23. Now U-High turns its attention to John Curtis, looking not just to end a 25-year title drought, but to serve notice that there's a new state power to watch.
And in the nightcap, the inaugural Division I title will be decided when Shreveport's Byrd High faces last year's 5A titleholder Archbishop Rummel.
Like University, Byrd experienced a breakthrough in 2013. The Yellow Jackets climbed all the way into the top 5 of the 5A state poll after starting the year 7-0, but they suffered a setback in a loss to Parkway that saw Byrd turn the ball over four times in the game's final 15 minutes of play. Still, the Yellow Jackets learned from their mistakes and blew out their final two opponents to finish the year 9-1. The playoffs proved to be tougher sledding. After a first-round bye and a 24-0 victory over Shaw, they made the trip to the Big Easy for a date with Holy Cross, coming away with an extremely hard-fought 14-10 win. Now they're one win away from their first state title since 1949.
Rummel's championship pedigree is much more recent. After winning the 5A crown last year, the Raiders from Metairie started the year as the preseason #1 in the state's biggest class. But a 3-2 start left Rummel feeling lost. They managed to right the ship though and finished the year 7-3, but it was the playoffs where the Raiders began to truly shine. After a tough 17-14 road win over Scotlandville, they faced a rematch with top seed St. Aug, who had bested them in the regular season. Rummel jumped out to a 21-8 lead but the Purple Knights kept cutting into it and took the lead in the fourth quarter. That's when Rummel mounted the deciding rally, scoring on a 9-yard touchdown run to retake the lead before intercepting St. Aug QB Toi Jackson on both of his final two possessions. Now a team that had never won a title heading into the 2012 season can make it two straight, but to do so, they'll have to get by a team trying to end 64 years of frustration.