NEW ORLEANS — High school football teams throughout the state will travel to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome next week for a two-day showdown to determine the best programs in five classifications.
For some teams, though, the bus ride to the 2012 LHSAA/State Farm Prep Classic will be a local affair. The New Orleans area is guaranteed to place at least one school in the Class 4A and 5A finals, scheduled for Dec. 7 and 8.
Holy Cross (10-2) and Karr (12-0 ) will play a 4A semifinal tonight at Behrman Stadium. The winner will face either top-seeded Neville or another local team, McDonogh 35. Meanwhile, top-seeded Rummel (12-0) will face 13th-seeded Mandeville (10-2) in a 5A semifinal at Joe Yenni Stadium. The winner will play either West Monroe or Barbe.
“I think it shows how much football means down here and how much hard work we put in, how much time and effort in this city,” said Holy Cross tight end Jared Johnson. “We’re thankful, humble to be in this predicament.”
All four New Orleans-area programs agree on one notion: The end is near, whether it comes tonight or next week. The teams are focused on extending the memories by treating the semifinal with the same intensity, the same dedication that allowed them to advance through their district schedules and three rounds of the playoffs.
While the schools are located a leisure drive from the city, they took different journeys to reach tonight’s semifinals.
Karr, 4A runners-up for the past two seasons, had to defeat local power St. Augustine 28-12 during last week’s 4A quarterfinals. Entering the game, St. Augustine had scored 93 points in two playoff games. Meanwile, Karr has allowed just 10.6 points per game during its latest playoff run.
“The desire is to continue to be good, to get better than we were the week before. I want to commend my coaches for getting our players ready week in and week out because the level of competition each week in our district is pretty difficult,” Karr coach Jabbar Juluke said, noting that the Cougars could face District 9-4A foe McDonogh 35 in the state finals.
First, Karr must face Holy Cross, which has proved to be one of the surprises of the state. The Tigers won just two games last season then found a way to earn their deepest postseason trip since 1967. Now, they are now one game away from winning their third state championship. Their first came in 1945 and the last in 1963, when head coach Barry Wilson was a standout player.
“It’s all new to them,” said Wilson, a former all-Southeastern Conference center at LSU. “They’re excited about it. The school’s excited. It’s something everybody’s looking forward to: the administration, the students, everyone.”
At Rummel, 15 current players were a part of the school’s lone state final appearance in 2010. Quarterback Damian Williams and linebacker Terrance Jones were starters in 2010.
“We’ve got an idea what a semifinal matchup is like; what it’s going to take,” Rummel coach Jay Roth said. “It’s going to take a little bit more than you gave the previous week to get to Week 15.”
Three years ago, middle linebacker Michael Kennedy played on Rummel’s scout team. Now he’s a vital part of the varsity’s 4-3 defense. Who knew his return to Superdome, just seven miles from his high school in Metairie, would take three years to reach?
“It takes a tremendous effort to get to where we’re at right now,” Kennedy said. “We know we just got to stay focused, keep executing and doing work. I think we’re just treating it like almost every week we’ve had. They’re just another team we have to play.”
Last season, Mandeville lost in the semifinals to West Monroe in its first state semifinal appearance.
Mandeville coach Guy LeCompte has reminded his team to remember this week as a special time.
“You only have so much time in (high school) action, so you embrace the season, not just the week,” said LeCompte, whose Skippers beat Catholic High 28-21 in the quarterfinals, avenging a season-opening loss. “Embrace the season, embrace the time that you’re here because you’re making memories with friends. That’s how we feel.”