St. Paul’s, Mandeville ready for 6-5A showdown

When Mandeville High School’s football players line up across from the St. Paul’s football players on Friday, they won’t need any introductions.

There are a couple of reasons that’s true, but perhaps tops on the list is that a large portion of the student population from Covington-based St. Paul’s lives in Mandeville.

Many of these players went to elementary school together.

Or they grew up playing rec sports at Pelican Park and together in junior high. Several live in the same neighborhoods, have similar friends and probably still hang out together on Saturday nights.

Then there’s also the fact that these two western St. Tammany teams have been among the most dominant programs in the area in the past few years. St. Paul’s has won 31 consecutive District 6-5A games, a streak that dates to 2008 when the Wolves lost 34-19 to Northshore.

Mandeville, meanwhile, is coming off two straight trips to the Class 5A semifinals, where the Skippers twice lost close games to the eventual state champion. Mandeville also is the last team not named St. Paul’s to win the district, that also coming in 2008, when the Skippers defeated the Wolves 17-0.

There are many football rivalries in St. Tammany Parish — a fact not lost on either Mandeville coach Guy Lecompte or St. Paul’s coach Ken Sears. But there is little denying that few games will be as galvanizing as Friday’s contest at St. Paul’s Hunter Stadium. This game, after all, surely could determine the district championship, given the way both teams have played this season — not to mention St. Paul’s seeking to extend that impressive win streak.

The Wolves are 3-2, 2-0 in 6-5A, and are coming off a 62-13 smackdown of Hammond on Friday. St. Paul’s is ranked ninth in the state’s unofficial Division I power rankings and its only two losses are to powers Edna Karr and McDonogh 35.

Mandeville (4-1, 2-0) is ranked sixth in the Class 5A unofficial power rankings and took on Fontainebleau in another rivalry game Friday — a pairing that resulted in a 35-3 win for the Skippers.

So, something will have to give on Friday, even as both coaches downplayed the “R” word.

“You can make a statement that every team in this district is a rival of ours,” Lecompte said. “Mandeville-St. Paul’s, Mandeville-Fontainebleau, Mandeville-Covington. I’m a friend of Larry Favre’s at Slidell. I guess that makes us rivals too.

“I guess if our players grew up on the playground with one of their players, then it’s a bigger deal,” he said. “But that would be like a friend lined up against another friend at say defensive end and offensive tackle.

“That’s one-on-one stuff. We as whole, as a staff, don’t make much of that, though. We just try to get better each week.”

But still, Lecompte is keenly aware of what’s happened in the regular season against St. Paul’s since he took over at the school.

“Sure, I have one win against them in the seven years I’ve been here,” Lecompte said. “So, he’s got me six times. I don’t put a lot of value in that, though, because they are very good.

“When we used to play them to open district, I felt like we were getting ready for the year, working our way to the postseason. We try to peak at the end of the year, as players and as coaches.”

Sears said he and the Wolves also respect Mandeville, but that he, in particular, is not paying attention to anything that’s happened in the past — the winning streak, the playoffs, none of it.

Despite St. Paul’s tremendous regular-season success of late, the Wolves have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs for past two years, including 2011 when they were undefeated and the state’s top-ranked Class 5A squad, but were bounced by No. 32 Central.

“We take one week at a time,” Sears said. “In that aspect, nothing has changed.”

But he also knows that it’s hard to keep the hoopla down in the days leading up to the Mandeville game.

For instance, Covington and St. Paul’s have been rivals for a century, and they play for the ceremonial Little Brown Jug trophy each year. But even that longtime tradition seems to have taken a backseat to Mandeville/St.Paul’s — at least in the public’s eye the past couple years.

“The players (here and at Mandeville) certainly know one another,” Sears said. “This is a week that you don’t have to say much to get anyone excited. We’ve been fortunate, but we have a lot of rivalries. This is a big one, but we have others.”

That’s not to take anything away from the Skippers, Sears emphasized.

“The key is to always focus at practice,” he said. “We play well when we do that. Sure, (the players) hear things (about the big game) I’m sure and they have to deal with it.

“But you always have to stress the appropriate way to act and to prepare. We have respect for all our opponents — especially Mandeville, as they are an excellent club and have excellent coaches.”