NEW ORLEANS — John Curtis football coach J.T. Curtis has been asked the question many times this season.
On Saturday, just after his team defeated Evangel Christian Academy 35-13 to capture its 25th state championship trophy in the Class 2A state title game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he was asked again:
“Is this the best Curtis team ever?” As always, the coach deferred.
“It’s certainly a very good football team,” Curtis replied. “And I’ll go to bat with them any time, any place, anywhere.”
Those who believe the answer is yes certainly could make a case. Not only did the Patriots finish the season with a perfect 14-0 record and a chance to finish the season as the No. 1 team in the country, they dominated a very good Evangel team crippled by the loss of their starting quarterback.
Evangel starting quarterback Dakota Duron suffered an apparent broken collar bone late in the first half and did not play in the second half.
As for the Patriots, it was a complete effort, Curtis said.
Five different Patriots players scored touchdowns and six players scored points. Sherman Badie had a 72-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Kerry Buckley rushed for 82 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown. Tevin Horton rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown. Patrick Morton scored on a 1-yard run. And Duke Riley got it all started with a momentum-swinging 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter and Richard Allen nabbed two interceptions and Fred Beauford recovered another fumble.
“This is a complete team,” Curtis said, once again deferring the question. “I’ve felt like this is a team that has good speed both offensively and defensively. We’ve got good depth. We’ve got great size. And our kicking game has been outstanding all year. You put those things together and you have the making of a pretty good football team.”
But Evangel was anything but a complete team after Duron was hit on the left side and driven to the turf on his right shoulder. He was 16 of 21 for 155 yards and one touchdown in the game and was 9-for-9 at one point on the Eagles’ opening drive. But it was his fumble on the Curtis 16-yard line that was recovered by Riley and returned 80 yards the other way for the Patriots’ first score. The Eagles had driven there on 12 plays and seemed poised to score.
“That hurt us right off the bat,” Evangel coach Phillip Deas said.
Duron said he didn’t know how bad his injury was at first.
“At first I thought it was just a big hit,” Duron said.” I knew I was going to get those big hits in this game. I started to walk back to the huddle and started to feel some bone popping.”
Duron was replaced by Trent Taylor, the wide receiver who caught eight passes for 72 yards and was on the end of Duron’s lone touchdown pass, a 17-yard strike in the second quarter. Pressed into service at quarterback Taylor completed 6 of 12 passes for 44 yards and rushed for 62 yards. He was named the Evangel’s Outstanding Player of the Game.
“He did a great job,” Duron said.
Curtis was almost too effective. The Patriots had two touchdowns in the first quarter despite having run only three plays on offense, then scored on its first three offensive possessions.
After Riley’s fumble return and an Eagles’ punt, the Patriots scored on their third offensive play – a 30-yard run by Buckley.
Evangel answered with a nine play, 95-yard drive capped by a 17-yard pass from Duron to Trent Taylor with 9:58 remaining in the first half.
But then Curtis responded with another touchdown, this one on the third play of its second drive as Saucier broke free for a 72-yard run.
Evangel came back with a drive that resulted in a 39-yard field goal. Curtis responded with a nine play drive — kept alive by a faked punt. With 2:04 remaining in the half, Morton scored on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to put the Patriots ahead 28-10.
It was on the first play of the next series — a 3-yard pass from Duron to Taylor — that Duron was injured.
“John Curtis this year has a great football team,” Deas said.
“They’ve got a national ranking for a reason. They’ve got a lot of great athletes. And I’ve said all week: you take the 14, 15 Division 1 offers that they have, and put that out there with great coaching and discipline and everything Curtis brings to the table every year, and you’re going to have a real special team. They have a real special team.”