Quarterbacks in spotlight for Class 4A state title game

NEW ORLEANS — The opposing quarterbacks in Friday night’s Class 4A state championship game are a study of contrast and similarity, a matchup which could prove to be one of the most compelling at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Karr’s Devante Noil is better known as “Speedy.” Though not as popular, some folks call John Diarse of Neville by the nickname, “JD13.”

Diarse is aiming for a return to greatness. Neville (13-0) is the defending 4A champions, in search of its third title in four years and 11th in school history.

“Down South, word has been getting to me that, ‘Hey, we want you No. 13, No. 13 you’re going to lose this time,’ ” Diarse said. “I think their coaches are preaching that third time is the charm.”

To Diarse, the charm will be collecting his third ring.

Noil wants redemption. Twice he has helped Karr (13-0) reach the championship game, and both times he departed the Superdome as the 4A runner-up. Great, but not the best in the state.

“Last year, I wouldn’t say everything was on my back, but the team was waiting to see if I was going to make a play before they got (fired) up,” Noil said. “Well, with this team, we all get ready at 100 percent at the beginning of a game and go hard.”

Now a junior, Noil has become one of the most coveted underclassmen in Louisiana by passing for 2,235 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing 1,331 yards and 20 TDs.

Diarse, also a dual threat, has passed for 1,486 yards and 17 TDs while rushing for 1,111 yards and 19 scores.

“(Diarse) wants to run the ball a lot, but he won’t do well running against us,” said Elcee Refuge, a senior outside linebacker at Karr. “I don’t think he’s going to be that successful.”

Both quarterbacks transitioned from receiver after their freshman years because they were so talented their coaches wanted them to have the ball in their hands on every play. Both are projected to move back to receiver in college.

Diarse, at 6-foot, 210 pounds, is committed to LSU. Noil is shorter at 5-7, but solid at 175 pounds. Noil said his week he has no college favorites as he continues to collect scholarship offers like junk mail.

Noil made his biggest improvement this season by curtailing his running exploits. Instead of sprinting out the pocket at the first sign of a pass rush, he’s learned to buy time while continuing to look down field for receivers other than primary option. He’s learned to trust in them, allow them to make plays too; no easy task for a guy with his moniker.

Noil has also improved at recognizing coverages, making audibles at the line and being more comfortable as a leader.

“Just being out there and getting a better feel for the position of quarterback allows you to see things a little better than you did before,” Karr coach Jabbar Juluke said. “This is his 30th game. He’s very experienced, very comfortable at what he’s doing.”

Trust is something Diarse has with his teammates, too. He’s also drawing from his relaxed persona. It’s not as simple as been there, done that. Still, entering the title game as a two-time champion offers a level of perspective.

“You shouldn’t feel any pressure,” Diarse said. “Of course, people tell you that they want you to win and this that and the other. But in my heart and in my mind, I’m very confident that our team will do our best.”

Not surprisingly, Noil feels the same way.