NEW ORLEANS — The No. 1-ranked Rummel Raiders proved an old football adage Saturday night in the LHSAA/State Farm Prep Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Defense wins championships.
In this case, the Class 5A state championship.
In the school’s 49th year of football, the Raiders under longtime coach Jay Roth can call themselves state champions, riding a 22-point flurry in the fourth quarter to a convincing 35-14 victory over the Barbe Buccaneers.
Quarterback Damian Williams and running back Keith Fulton provided the one-two punch for the Raiders, who put an exclamation point on a perfect 14-0 season.
Fulton rushed 22 times for 132 yards, including touchdown runs of 3, 4 and 4 yards in the fourth quarter, to help the Raiders overcome a 14-13 deficit after three quarters.
Williams accounted for 245 all-purpose yards and was named the game’s Outstanding Player. He amassed 52 yards on the ground while completing 11 of 13 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns.
In the end, the Raiders had too much offense and way too much defense for the Buccaneers (13-2), who ended their season one win shy of the school’s first state title.
“It’s unbelievable,’’ said Roth, who guided the Raiders to the school’s first state title game in 2009, only to lose to West Monroe 30-0. “We played out butts off. That was a heck of an offensive team we shut down. Our defensive coaches came up with a great plan and we did it.’’
The task facing the Raiders’ defense seemed daunting, if not impossible — trying to contain a scoring machine that averaged 41.7 points per game and featured a 4,000-yard passer (quarterback Kennon Fontenot), a 2,000-yard receiver (Trey Quinn) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Courtney Galentine).
But the swarming “Red Ants’’ set the tone early, limiting the Buccaneers to seven points and 167 yards on just three possessions in the first half. Rummel won the all-important time-of-possession battle in the first 24 minutes, holding the ball for 14:01 and scoring on its only two possessions.
“They played great defense,’’ Barbe coach Mike Cutrera said. They are fundamentally sound, but most of the time, they were playing defense on offense by keeping our offense off the field.
“They did a great job with clock management, especially in the first half.’’
The Raiders scored first, stealing a page from the Buccaneers’ offensive playbook.
Williams flawlessly directed a 13-play, 99-yard drive, culminating with a 12-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Steven Dunbar with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Williams connected on all four passes for 61 yards and kept the drive alive with a 1-yard keeper on fourth-and-1 from the Buccaneers 13.
After failing to generate points on their first possession, the Buccaneers responded with a 12-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that ended on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Kennon Fontenot to tight end Desean Smith in the back of the end zone.
The Raiders came right back to take the lead 13-7, again going long-distance (82 yards) and keeping the Buccaneers’ offense on the sideline in the process (10 plays, 5:59).
Williams and tight end Cethan Carter collaborated on a 12-yard catch-and-run with 1:33 remaining in the first half. But sure-footed kicker Zachary Pilet clanged the extra-point attempt off the left upright with 1:33 remaining in the first half.
Rummel’s lead appeared to be short-lived when Fontenot and Smith hooked up on a 49-yard Hail Mary pass as time expired. Smith outfought three Raiders defenders for the batted ball in the end zone, but offsetting penalties nullified the touchdown.
Fontenot kept it exciting to the final whistle, scrambling 32 yards before being gang-tackled at the Raiders 17 on an untimed down.
That missed PAT loomed large at the outset of the second half.
Barbe took its first lead of the game 14-13 with 6:24 left in the third quarter on a 23-yard scoring pass from Fontenot to Smith and the all-important extra point from kicker Jamie McGee.
The Buccaneers tried to extend their lead after defensive tackle Thomas Richard recovered Williams’ fumble at the Rummel 29. But the Raiders’ defense stiffened, and McGee missed wide left on a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Rummel regained the lead 21-14 on Fulton’s 3-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter and Williams’ 2-point pass to Dunbar.
A crucial 34-yard catch-and-run by Dunbar on third-and-4 from the Barbe 37 kept the drive alive.
After stopping the Buccaneers on downs at the Rummel 43, the Raiders drove 57 yards in 4 plays and extended their lead to 28-14 on Fulton’s 4-yard run with 7:21 remaining. Williams and Dunbar again combined on a key play, a 38-yard pass to the Buccaneers’ 19.
Fulton closed out the scoring on a 4-yard run with 2:09 remaining.
“I’ve been a head coach for 18 years and in coaching for 27, and many years, I’ve sat in the stands and watched this (state championship game),’’ Roth said. “To win it is such a great feeling.’’
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