Teams split two games last season
When Mandeville quarterback Glen Cuiellette thinks back to the 2012 season opener against Catholic of Baton Rouge, he thinks of being nervous. It was, after all, his first game as the Skippers starting quarterback and the early-season jitters already had been compounded because of Hurricane Isaac’s landfall in south Louisiana a week earlier.
“It was my first game, and I was really excited,” the Tulane commitment said. “But I was ready to work, and we got the nerves out.”
Still, when the final horn sounded, Mandeville trailed 26-14. The Skippers exacted a great deal of revenge in the Class 5A playoffs, however. As the team matured and grew together throughout the year, they knocked off the fifth-seeded Bears 28-21 in the quarterfinals. Mandeville, seeded 13th, lost to eventual state champion Rummel by three points in the semifinals.
Mandeville and Catholic will meet for the third time in 15 games when they tangle at Olympia Stadium on Friday. In the Louisiana Sports Writers Association poll, the Bears are ranked fifth in Class 5A, and the Skippers are 11th.
Though players and coaches with both teams realize the matchup has become somewhat of a recent, long-distance rivalry, they said both squads have changed since last season — and possibly for the better.
“Catholic appears to be in midseason form already, if not better,” said Mandeville coach Guy Lecompte. “That’s what I see on offense, defense, special teams. They’re just strong.”
The Bears (1-0) showed that in their 2013 opener with a 28-6 win over Class 3A power Parkview Baptist. Mandeville (1-0) was equally impressive, notching a 20-7 win over Houston (Tex.) Dekaney High School, which is only two years removed from a state title in Texas.
“Honestly, I think Mandeville may look better this year,” said Catholic coach Dale Weiner. “They move the ball really well, and they may be a step quicker this year. That’s a big deal because you can’t substitute speed.”
Though both coaches were quick to dish out the accolades to their upcoming foe, neither puts stock in Catholic having the home-field advantage. Instead both said the winner will be determined by the team that executes best and gets the most from its key players.
For Catholic, that honor against Parkview went to running back Derruis Guice who rushed 16 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a punt return for a 73-yard touchdown and three-year starting quarterback Nick Coomes, not forced to pass often in the decisive win, finished 4-of-5 for 33 yards passing. Connor Bowen also returned an interception 36 yards for a score.
Mandeville’s Cuiellette threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns against Dekaney — a 35-yarder to Parker Orgeron and a 36-yarder to Zac Barrient. Cuiellette also rushed for a 10-yard touchdown.
Coomes said though Catholic was successful in 2012, the thing he remembers most of the season is losing its final game to the Skippers.
“It’s a dogfight when we play them,” he said. “Playing them twice last year adds to it this year. Losing to them in that second game still stings. It’s something we remember.”
Mandeville senior outside linebacker Mason Lemieux’s job is to lead a unit that aims to keep Catholic’s ball-control offense off the field.
“They were probably one of the best teams we played last year and might have been the best offense,” Lemieux said. “We just have to get ready to play a tough game. They might be equally (tough) to how they were last year. But these are two different teams.”
Coomes said Catholic must take care of the ball.
“Ball security,” he said. “We had a couple of turnovers when we lost to them last year that changed the momentum. If we can execute and hold on to the ball, we’re capable of scoring on any drive we have. I’m sure Mandeville feels the same way.”
As the teams appear to be equally matched, Weiner said the game may come down to who is the most poised.
He said his team handled adversity well Friday when it played Parkview in a game that was delayed an hour because of foul weather.
“Sometimes when things like that happen, you wonder if you’re going to struggle on the mental side,” Weiner said. “But the team was focused. There is no doubt that Mandeville is a good team. So are we.”
We’ll just have to play it and see how things turn out.”