NEW ORLEANS – Since the start of the season, many said St. Charles Catholic was a championship-caliber team. The one guy who would never say so was Comets coach Frank Monica.
Was Monica finally ready to admit what everyone else seemed to know after a 9-8 win over Amite on Saturday afternoon in the Class 3A state championship in the Superdome Classic?
“They anointed us at the beginning of the year and we had just moved into 3A by four kids. I could kiss those four kids now,” Monica said. “By four kids, we became a 3A school and after reclassification, we saw what district we were in and we were in a real good district…”
That’s about as close to admission as you will get from the veteran coach from the Bear Bryant school of downplaying one’s own team. Well, not quite.
“It’s good to be state champions,” Monica said. “I wanted this for these players and these coaches. There are five guys on the coaching staff that are St. Charles alum and never experienced a state championship. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of three. I’ve been on the losing side also; I want you to know that. I wanted them to experience this and see what it’s like. This is like an eternal tattoo that will say with you forever.”
OK, coach, we’ll take that as an admission.
His players were ready to declare they were state champions, but much later in the game than first expected. After a 9-0 lead following St. Charles’ first two possessions, it appeared the celebration might start quite early. As the game turned into a 9-8 nail-biter down the stretch, realization a state title was upon them had to be delayed.
“Not until we kneeled it,” St. Charles running back Marcus Hall said of the ‘We’re state champs’ sunk in. “Amite is a great team. They have some great players. (Warriors linebacker-running back Juwann Rogers) got all of my respect on that play he knocked me out, but it wasn’t enough and we got it done.”
“I was trying to figure it out on the scoreboard and divide the numbers in my head by 25 (representing the play clock) to see if we could take a knee or not, but once I saw Jeff (Hall) go in at safety and Donnie (Savoie) take that knee, I was like, ‘We got it,’” said Comets free safety Macky Cortez.
The Comets appeared they might ‘get it’ early. On the opening possession of the game, St. Charles defensive tackle Taylor Cochran blocked an Amite punt, giving the Comets the ball for the first time in the game at the Warriors’ 33-yard line.
“I was saying all week, I told Coach I would go get it. I saw the (personal protector) jump in front of me and I just tried to jump over him and I just threw my arms out and I ended up blocking it,” said Cochran, a 6-foot-3, 350 pounder said.
“He’d never been on punt return before. This week we inserted him in there because we wanted a little more power coming through that line,” Monica said.
The move paid immediate dividends. Six plays after the block, fullback Brandon Zimmer powered in from 3 yards out. Patrick Juneau’s extra point attempt hit the right upright and was no good as the Comets led 6-0.
On the Warriors’ next possession, Ross Authement intercepted a Reginald Porter pass. The pass bounced off of Amite receiver James Oden Jr. and the alert St. Charles strong safety returned the errant toss to the Warriors’ 8-yard line.
“It came out of nowhere. Jeff (Hall) broke good on the ball and tipped it and I got it and I brought it to the 5-yard line (actually the 8) and it led us our second score,” Authement said.
That second score came four plays later on a 29-yard Juneau field goal that gave St. Charles a 9-0 lead with 4:53 still remaining in the first quarter.
“I had missed the point after and I guess the nerves were still getting to me but I knew I had to make it up to my team and it paid off a lot winning 9-8,” Juneau said.
The field goal for what proved to be the game-winning points almost didn’t take place.
“Actually, I was going to go for it, but Coach Ty Monica, my son, he said, ‘no, kick it.’ Thank God I listened to him. I don’t normally listen to him. I normally say, ‘go away and go play,’ and that ended up being the difference in the game,” the elder Monica joked.
The 9-0 lead lasted through halftime as the game turned into a defensive struggle.
Neither team managed 200 yards of total offense in the game. St. Charles was limited to 128 total yards and Amite 177.
The Comets finished with 106 yards rushing and a net 22 passing. Marcus Hall led St. Charles in rushing with 72 yards on 17 carries. He had SCC’s longest play from scrimmage, an 18-yard run. Savoie was 6 of 16 passing for 22 yards and one interception.
Amite, which conclude its season at 12-2, ended with 123 yards passing and 54 yards rushing. Porter, who passed for 123 yards, was the team’s leading rusher with a net 29 yards on 16 carries.
St. Charles got the ball to open the second half but was forced into a three-and-out. Joshua Gibson fumbled the attempted punt return, with Cortez recovering at the Amite 43.
“I saw how (Gibson) was fumbling it and Jeff (Hall) had knocked it out and I saw it was on the ground and I knew I had to get it because it would be a big momentum swing because the offense had just gone three-and-out and then we had the ball on our side of the field, so I knew that would be a big momentum switch,” said Cortez.
The Comets failed to produce points after the turnover but it did allow St. Charles to control field position and run additional time off the clock in a game that would ultimately come down to the closing moments.
“We told the kids at halftime we had to try and control the third quarter and get the momentum back on our side. We did a little bit but not to the point where we were getting in the end zone,” said Monica.
A defensive battle throughout, there were only two plays of at least 30 yards – both by Amite. The first such play, a 31-yard pass from Porter to Jermaine Jolla Jr. advanced the ball to the Comets’ 39-yard line. Facing third-and-goal at the 11-yard line, Connor Western intercepted a Porter pass in the end zone to end the threat.
“We just came out there and I dropped back and he threw the ball to me. That’s basically what happened,” the sophomore safety said.
The second big gainer of the game – a 32-yard pass from Porter to Oden – advanced the Warriors to the St. Charles 19 on Amite’s next possession. The big play paid off this time when Porter eventually scored on a 5-yard keeper.
A pair of penalties on the extra point attempt backed the Warriors to their 14 for the conversion try. Porter’s pass to Oden made it 9-8 with 8:46 remaining in the game.
Clinging to one-point lead, the Comets inserted Marcus Hall into the game to handle direct snaps in the wildcat formation. While St. Charles failed to score, they did move the ball and wind time off the clock before all Savoie had to do was take a knee on two plays to run out the clock on a 15-0 state championship season for the Comets.
“We didn’t really use the wildcat all year but it was a big thing for us last year and we really didn’t need it until just in this game and we knew we could always go to it if we needed some yards or some momentum and we got it done,” Hall said.
For all the points the Comets scored in an undefeated season, St. Charles managed to prove that defense does still win championships.
“Yes, no question. In fact, I told the kids during the week that in 1978 when I was the coach at Lutcher High School, we won the state championship by beating Haughton and the score was 12-7. That’s so important. Our defensive coaches have done a phenomenal job of preparing the guys. We got them in position and we felt like we had to take away the quarterback because he is such a great player, and I think for the most part, we did that.”