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Kirklin could be first quarterback to lead Lutcher to consecutive titles

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  • Feature Story
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  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • December 09, 2016 - 8:17pm

File photosJontre Kirklin (13) could be the first quarterback in Lutcher history to guide the Bulldogs to consecutive state titles with a win Saturday over Amite.

When Lutcher won the Class 3A state championship a year ago, it was the seventh title in the history of the school.

The Bulldogs were led by junior quarterback Jontre Kirklin. In an oddity of sorts, all of Lutcher’s state championship teams were guided by a junior quarterback.

“To be honest, I really wasn’t aware that it was always junior quarterbacks. I heard about it but it just an accomplishment to be that I had to do for the team and win a state championship,” said Kirklin.

Like Kirklin, the previous six state champion quarterbacks returned for Lutcher the following season. Three of the previous championship teams reached the semifinals but Kirklin is the first quarterback to make it to the title game his senior season.

“They had an opportunity to come back. They all had great senior years, probably better senior seasons than they had junior seasons but they didn’t get it done as a team,” said Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins, who also is a former Bulldogs quarterback. “In a lot of ways, Jontre’s senior year has kind of been up and down in his performance but he has the opportunity to do it.”

“He knows about it,” Jenkins continued. “The one thing I can say about this team is that we haven’t run these expectations. We’ve met them head on and he has as well. He knows about it. It’s not a secret. We need him to play his best football because when he’s at his best, we are at our best.”

Curt Caldarera was the Lutcher quarterback when the Bulldogs attempt to repeat for the first time in 1976. The Bulldogs reached the semifinals before falling 17-3 at home to Jesuit of Shreveport to hand Lutcher its first loss in 29 games and first-year coach Frank Monica his first defeat as top dog.

Jesuit held Lutcher powerful ground game to 67 yards and the Flyers intercepted Caldarera four times.

“We were looking forward to getting back to the state championship,” said Caldarera. “We just fell a little short. I know Coach Monica was upset being that was his first year and coming in with a chance to win another championship. We had a great group of guys and we had an excellent team but Jesuit of Shreveport was up to the challenge and they went on to win it that year.”

Lutcher won its second state title in 1978. Like in 1975, the Bulldogs were led by a Caldarera at quarterback – this time Curt’s younger brother, Chris. Lutcher also had a first-year coach in former Bulldogs star running back David Richard.

Unlike the 1976 squad, the 1979 team lost in the first round of the playoffs, falling to Amite 12-7.

Lutcher trailed by five points when the Bulldogs began a final march from their own 8-yard line with 3:50 left in the game. Lutcher managed to reach the Amite 31 when the Bulldogs faced a fourth-and-1 situation. Jerry Poche got the ball but was stopped for no gain by the Warriors’ Schrrirra Finn to end the Bulldogs’ hopes for a late rally.

“We stuck together as a group and the seniors bonded. We had a solid team and just fell short against Amite. We had some missed opportunities in that game. Overall, with the guys we had, we felt we had another good run to go but we fell short,” said Chris Caldarera, who split time at quarterback with Durel Matherne Jr.

Lutcher’s third attempt to capture back-to-back titles came in 1984 after Richard led the Bulldogs to a state championship a year earlier.

The latest junior-turned-senior to try and lead Lutcher to consecutive titles was Terrance Jones. The Bulldogs lost district games to St. James and Destrehan in the regular season. In past years, the Bulldogs would have missed the playoffs but a new wildcard system allowed Luther to take part in the postseason.

Lutcher got revenge for the regular-season loss to St. James, defeating the Wildcats 35-30 in the second round of the playoffs. The emotional nature of the game seemed to take a toll on Richard’s Bulldogs, who were walloped a week later in the quarterfinals, falling 74-21 to Northside.

Not only did Northside put up 74 points on the scoreboard, it also scored 42 points in the second quarter alone on its way to amassing 737 yards of total offense.

“It was demoralizing. We couldn’t get anything going,” recalled Jones many years later. “They were hungrier than we were and we were maybe resting on our laurels.

“You talk about one or two big plays being the difference in a game; how about 10?”

It would be 20 years before the Bulldogs would be in position to seek back-to-back state titles.

Coach Tim Detillier led Lutcher to it fourth state title in 2003 with the mostly unlikely state champions of all. Paced by junior quarterback Dustin Mitchell, the Bulldogs lost their first three games of the season before winning six of their final seven to sneak into the playoffs before eventually knocking off Notre Dame of Crowley 15-7 for the state title.

Lutcher got off to a 0-3 start again in 2004 but the experience of the previous year left the Bulldogs undaunted despite a 4-6 regular season. Like the year before, Lutcher rebounded to make the playoffs.

Just as the year before, the Bulldogs, despite being a No. 23 seed, made another deep playoff run but Notre Dame got its revenge with a 23-13 triumph in the semifinals as Lutcher finished with a 7-7 record.

Lutcher held the early lead before Notre Dame scored on three-straight possessions – the final two of the first half and the opening drive of the third quarter to put the game away.

“Our semifinal game, we dropped a couple of passes and had a couple of mental errors. We played hard and we stayed in the game and almost pulled it through. It would have been nice if we could have gone back-to-back,” said Mitchell.

Detillier became the first Lutcher coach to win more than one state title when the Bulldogs won their fifth championship with a 27-7 victory over Independence in 2006.

With Blaine Gautier at quarterback, the Bulldogs reached the quarterfinals before being eliminated from the 2007 playoffs with 35-14 loss to Redemptorist.

“Going into my senior year, we knew we would compete again for a state championship. We knew we had the group of guys to do it. We returned a lot of starters and had a lot of experience. We finished up the regular season 9-1 and we had a pretty good season going, so going into the playoffs, we knew we would have a tough road, as usual,” Gautier recalled. “Everybody was gunning at us and we got to the quarterfinals, and it just so happens my sophomore year, we also played Redemptorist in the semifinals and fell short. We knew we wanted to come out and play hard and that it would be our year. We ended up falling a little short.

“We were so excited coming off a state championship year and just thinking we had all the experience to do it again and we fell short, but not matter what, it was still a great year.”

State championship No. 6 for Lutcher – and the third for Detillier – came in 2008. The junior quarterback to win the title this time was Gavin Webster.

Lutcher raced through the regular season unbeaten and for the third time in school history, a defending state champion reached the Class 4A semifinals.

Years before Lutcher had an artificial turf; the Bulldogs hosted Neville in a game played in a steady rain, on a mud-covered grass field and frigid temperatures.

Lutcher, which went into the game averaging 47 points per game, was blanked 42-0 by Neville. The Bulldogs lost two fumbles on special teams and had a punt blocked.

While Webster rushed for 88 yards, he was only 2 of 5 passing for 9 yards as he continually had trouble gripping a heavy, slick football.

“When we came up short, it was very depressing because I think we had one of the great teams to come through Lutcher and our senior year to come up short, that just broke our hearts,” said Webster. “The next day, it turned out to be sunny and good football weather. That’s what hurt us when we realized that if it was a day later, we could have fought with them but they were a good team and we couldn’t do anything with them in that of weather and the conditions.”

Lutcher won its seventh state title – and fourth for Detillier - in last year’s 41-14 victory over rival St. James.

After the Bulldogs defeated West Feliciana 16-14 in last week’s Class 3A semifinals, Kirklin becomes the first Lutcher quarterback following a championship season to return to the title game his senior year when LHS takes on Amite at noon Saturday in the Superdome in New Orleans.

“I’m just glad I’m able to have this opportunity to be on the Lutcher High School football team and being a junior quarterback and then coming back as a senior to win it again, I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to go out and have another chance,” said Kirklin.

Several of the previous Lutcher quarterbacks who tried, but were ultimately unsuccessful in bringing home a state title their senior year, offered some friendly advice for Kirklin.

“He’s been through it and he just has to continue to relish the moment and continue to be the leader he’s been. They will only go as far as he takes them,” said Gautier.

“My advice would be to just play your game,” advised Chris Caldarera. “Don’t worry about all the accolades and everything going on around him because he’s been pretty successful. He just needs to be himself and be there for his teammates and go out there and have fun.”

“My advice to him is to keep his head on straight and he has to lead and the team will go as far as the quarterback takes them. Every championship team has to have a good quarterback and a good leader,” Webster said.

“He’s in an excellent position to do it with an excellent coaching staff. I know they’ve worked hard and will be confident going into the game. They just have to stay within themselves and play like they normally play and let the chips fall where they may. I think they have a great opportunity to win it all,” said Curt Caldarera.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.