NATCHITOCHES – It was the kind of break St. Charles Catholic has created for itself over the years.
Trailing 10-0 in the second quarter and with Lafayette Christian Academy at the SCC 28, the Comets came up with the big break they needed.
With fourth-and-3, St. Charles senior linebacker Mandel Eugene stepped in front of a Ryan Roberts pass for an interception that seemed to halt the Knights’ early dominance.
Eugene did more than halt the momentum – he switched it. Starting from the St. Charles 17, the SCC linebacker and recent Tulane signee, broke several tackles. He then tight-roped the sideline in front of the Comets’ bench and raced 83 yards for a touchdown to put SCC back in the game at 10-7 less than a minute into the second quarter.
The St. Charles defense would not allow the Knights to score for the remainder of the game.
Unfortunately for the Comets, the SCC offense also was unable to provide any points the rest of the way, falling to Lafayette Christian 10-7 Monday afternoon in the Division III state championship game at Turpin Stadium on the campus of Northwestern State University.
The Comets have been in the state championship game three of the last five years, but the third time proved to be no charm as SCC failed to claim the title in a defense-dominated encounter.
Lafayette Christian, which defeated the Comets 41-14 in last year’s final, captured its fourth-consecutive state title with the hard-fought win.
Demonstrating just how much the defenses dominated the game, Eugene was named St. Charles Catholic’s Most Valuable Player of the game, while the LCA award went to Knights linebacker Masey Lewis.
Eugene had a sack to go along with his interception return for a touchdown, while Lewis two sacks, an assist on another sack, along with five solo tackles and five assisted tackles.
After much of the first half was played on the St. Charles Catholic side of the field, the Comets turned that around in the second half, starting with SCC’s opening possession of the third quarter.
Starting at their own 20-yard line, the Comets picked up three third-down conversions in the drive before ultimately having to punt from the LCA 44-yard line.
Although the drive failed to produce points, the Comets ate up 7:21 on the drive and the allowed the SCC defense to stay fresh for the remainder of the game.
The punt pinned the Knights at their own 7-yard line and allowed SCC to enjoy favorable field position the remainder of the contest.
SCC’s defense forced a three-and-out, but a punt to midfield, coupled with an illegal block penalty gave the Comets the ball back at their own 39 and eventually forced another punt, again from the LCA 44.
Another punt exchange allowed SCC to take possession at the Knights’ 40-yard line.
The Comets were unable to take advantage when on fourth-and-3 from the LCA 23, SCC quarterback Zack Vicknair was dropped in the backfield by Brylan Green.
It was the Knights’ turn to pin SCC deep when a 56-yard punt was downed at the Comets’ 4-yard line and St. Charles down to one timeout.
Forced to try and convert on fourth-and-1 from their own 13-yard line, the Comets made things harder for themselves after committing a false-start penalty.
On fourth-and-6 from the 8-yard line, Vicknair rolled to his right and his pass fell incomplete, allowing Lafayette Christian to capture another state championship.
The game started as almost a repeat of the 2019 state championship affair.
On the first play from scrimmage, a wide-open Cameron Scott hauled in a Roberts pass at midfield and scampered 80 yards for a touchdown to give the Knights a lightning-quick 7-0 lead.
Three plays into the Comets’ opening possession, Vicknair fumbled, with Lewis recovering for Lafayette Christian at the St. Charles 12.
Four plays later, Louie Davies kicked a 24-yard field goal and St. Charles trailed 10-0 only 2:45 into the game.
Unlike the title game from a year ago, the Comets survived the early Lafayette Christian onslaught.
On the first play from scrimmage a year earlier, Ethan Laing opened the game with a 49-yard pass reception. Four plays later, a 7-yard run by Sage Ryan gave Lafayette Christian a 6-0 lead.
The Knights were without Ryan this time around. The LSU signee missed both Lafayette Christian’s semifinal and championship games after suffering a hamstring injury.
LCA went on to build a 20-0 halftime lead in the 2019 championship game, but Eugene’s only interception return for a touchdown in his career on Monday afternoon, stemmed the tide and kept the Comets in the game until the closing seconds.
Yards were hard to come by for both teams.
St. Charles Catholic was limited to eight first downs, 91 yards rushing on 44 attempts, and a net of 39 yards passing.
Vicknair was most of SCC’s offense with 70 yards rushing on 30 carries and was 4 of 10 passing for 39 yards.
Lafayette was held to seven first downs. Of the Knights’ 148 yards passing, 80 came on the opening play of the game. LCA was limited to 40 yards rushing on 26 attempts.