If any team knows how to prepare for a big game coming off an extended amount of time off, it’s the St. Charles Catholic Comets.
Because of coronavirus concerns involving Cohen, the Comets didn’t play their final regular-season game. As the No. 2 seed in the Division III playoffs, St. Charles earned an opening-round bye, giving SCC two full weeks off before taking on Dunham.
The Comets didn’t show an ill affect from the layoff, defeating Dunham 31-7.
“I think the time off we had right before the first playoff game against Dunham, I think our football team got a little bit better than week because we could return to some basics,” St. Charles Coach Frank Monica said.
The Comets followed up the win over Cohen with a 24-22 win over Notre Dame of Crowley in the semifinals a week ago to reach the state championship game that is scheduled for 3 p.m. December 28 at Turpin Stadium on the Northwestern State University campus in Natchitoches against top-seeded Lafayette Christian in a 2019 title game rematch.
There is a 17-day gap between SCC’s semifinal game and the championship encounter.
The long duration has caused the Comets to alter their practice routine, as has the ever-present specter of the coronavirus.
“Because of COVID what we did is we lumped the days together,” Monica explained. “We will practice three days this week and then give them off three days. Then we will come back at it the next week. It’s kind of a stop-start routine.
“We will be in uppers and then full pads. Every day we hope to be doing something constructive. (At first), we are just putting in our base concepts until we know more. The final game plan won’t be put in until after this weekend.”
The coronavirus has led to an unusual regular-season schedule and altered playoff calendar from years past. Normally, practicing for the holidays meant working during Thanksgiving Week in preparation for the quarterfinals. This year, it’s means practicing Christmas Week to get ready for the finals.
The schedule has worked in the Comets’ favor as St. Charles will have concluded exam week ahead of championship week, so that issue is not a factor.
When SCC reached the championship game a year ago, it came following a 43-42 double-overtime win over Catholic of New Iberia. The Comets had a week off before facing Lafayette Christian, but in hindsight, Monica said, his team may have never gotten past the emotional semifinal contest.
Now, the Comets have some extra time before they meet Lafayette Christian again.
“Last year, we had a (double-overtime) win in the semifinals, and I think that kind of took away some of our emotions for the championship. This year, we have a little bit more time off and maybe we get that game behind us and start focusing on Lafayette Christian,” Monica said.
Although the Comets will be playing in the state championship game away from the Superdome in New Orleans for the second year in a row, circumstances are different than last season.
Last year, the non-select championship games were played in the Superdome as usual. The select games were played at individual sites. This year, all the games are in Natchitoches.
“It was not the ideal situation logistically that we could have had, as far as we’re concerned. Now the state will handle a lot of the things we had to handle logistically from an organizational standpoint. I’m talking about pre-game things. I think that will work out better, but we still have to play the game,” said Monica.
As the veteran coach said, all that is left is to play the game.
“We are here,” the St. Charles coach said. “Many had written us off at the beginning of the year. They look at the two losses (to De La Salle and Newman) but they don’t realize we had a grind of a schedule. Our schedule with the 5As we had on it, and the unbeaten teams we had on it. We didn’t have any so-called homecoming games. Every game was a good matchup.”
“I think that we are battle tested,” Monica continued. “We now have experience. We will go into this one really with our eyes open. Last year, I think we were just happy to be alive. I think this year we will go into this ball game knowing what we are going to get into with our eyes open and we will give it our best shot.”