NEW ORLEANS — There may have never been another night like this before. And there may never be another one.
Three Class 4A quarterfinal playoff games involving four New Orleans teams, all being played in the same city at the same time.
At Tad Gormley Stadium, Holy Cross will face LaGrange of the Lake Charles area. A few blocks away at Pan-American, it’s McDonogh 35 against Teurlings Catholic of Lafayette.
And across the Mississippi River, at Behrman Stadium in Algiers, it’s Karr vs. St. Augustine in the most-anticipated playoff game between two local teams in almost two decades.
“It can’t get much better than this,” said Karr Coach Jabbar Juluke, himself a St. Aug graduate. “I’ve been telling everybody about how much better high school football in New Orleans has gotten since Katrina, and you’re seeing it now.
“There are teams like Walker and Warren Easton who are good enough to be here, too. And the best thing is that most of these kids know each other.”
That they do.
Last Saturday, the day after second-seeded Karr (11-0) beat Northwood-Shreveport, 35-14, and No. 10 St. Augustine (9-3) defeated St. Thomas More of Lafayette, 40-14, to advance to the quarterfinals, players from both teams were at a birthday party for a student at a third school.
“There was some back and forth,” Karr senior safety Colin Early said, “but mostly we just didn’t say anything to each other. We’re saving that for the game.”
St. Augustine senior wide receiver Kelan Chairs wasn’t at the party, but he said he heard plenty about it.
“We’ve got a pretty intense rivalry,” he said. “But mostly it was just saying, ‘See you Friday,’ to each other. But that’s part of what makes it fun.”
McDonogh 35 coach Wayne Reese, who has been a head coach since 1980, has been stressing that to his team.
“I’ve been telling them to enjoy themselves because there are a lot of good teams sitting home, and they’re still playing,” he said. “Now they shouldn’t let it take away from concentrating on winning and moving on.
“But this is where all of the hard work they put in during the summer and the good teams we played pays off.
At No. 21, the Roneagles (7-5) are one of the lowest remaining seeds in any classification. But that is largely a product of a nondistrict schedule that included St. Augustine, St. Paul’s and Lutcher, plus playing in a district that includes Karr, which beat McDonogh 35, 35-8, and O. Perry Walker, a 36-0 loss in their league opener.
“We knew we had talent,” Reese said. “It was just a matter of getting experience in being able to execute what they were supposed to be doing.”
The Roneagles proved that last week against fifth-seeded Salmen, holding the Spartans to just 73 yards in a 22-6 victory.
“When you play teams like we did, you get toughened up,” senior cornerback Ronald Jenkins said. “We’ve stayed determined and stayed dedicated.”
(11-1) is coming off a 43-21 victory against Bastrop in which the Rebels scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter after the Rams had rallied for a 21-21 tie.
“No doubt they’re good or they wouldn’t be where they are,” Reese said, “But we’re there, too. Our kids realize they can play with anybody.”
Holy Cross is another unlikely quarterfinalist, chiefly because the Tigers were 2-8 a year ago.
But the Tigers (9-2) have reversed that record, thanks in large part to a strong defensive line, led by senior tackle Jordan Showalter.
That kind of play will be needed against No. 14 LaGrange (9-3) which showed a strong running game in its 41-20 regional round win against St. Martinville, while also being opportunistic on defense and special teams.
“There’s no doubt we’re going to be at our best,” Holy Cross Coach Barry Wilson said. “If we’re not, LaGrange is the kind of team that can run all over you.”
Showalter said there’s little chance of that happening.
“It’s been strictly business for us this week,” he said. “The seniors have told the younger players that when you get to this point, you want to keep it going so much, so you play ever game, every play like it could be your last.”
At Behrman, the attention will be on Karr’s defense trying to limit stellar St. Augustine running back Leonard Fournette, who rolled up 354 yards in last week’s 40-14 victory at St. Thomas More.
“Gerald Willis, Titus Charles, Benson Davis, Joyan Williams,” said Juluke, reeling off the names of his defensive front. “They’ve been outstanding all year and our defensive coaches will have our kids prepared and ready to play.”
St. Augustine Coach Cyril Crutchfield agreed.
“There’s going to be a lot of talent on the field, a bunch of fired-up kids and a huge crowd,” he said. “It’s the kind of game every coach wants his kid to be able to experience at least once. I just hope our fans know to get there early.”