It’s rather appropriate that the Division III state championship game is a rematch.
That’s because it gives St. Charles Catholic coach Frank Monica a chance to bring out his boxing metaphors heading into the state title game against three-time defending champion Lafayette Christian at 3 p.m. Monday at Turpin Stadium on the Northwestern State University campus in Natchitoches.
In SCC’s loss to the Knights a year ago, the Comets fell behind 6-0 early and were down 20-0 at halftime. On the first play of the game, Lafayette Christian quarterback Errol Rogers hit a wide-open Ethan Laing for a 49-yard gain. Four plays later, the Comets were trailing by six points after a 7-yard touchdown run by Sage Ryan.
“They got off to a quick start and that’s what we have to guard against this time. They blitzkrieg us and they jumped on us quickly and they provided the first punch and it ended up being the knockout blow. We had to withstand that storm and we have to come back with our own knockout punch,” said Monica.
No one has been able to deliver the ultimate knockout punch to the Knights in the previous three years. Lafayette Christian has won three-straight state titles. This season, LCA has been formidable once again. The Knights go into Monday’s championship game with only one blemish – a 21-0 season-opening loss to Acadiana, which will be playing for its second-straight Class 5A title on Wednesday.
St. Charles Catholic suffered two losses in the regular season, and like LCA, it came against top-flight competition. The Comes losses were to De La Salle and Newman.
“We are a battle-tested team,” said Monica. “We’ve played some tough opponents, all on the road. This team has been resilient throughout the years.”
The team, led by a senior group that has been to the championship game three times in the last five years, also has experience taking on Lafayette Christian and the aura of the Knights.
“I think the ‘awe’ factor or ‘wow’ factor – whatever you want to call it – should not be there,” said Monica, “even though we can’t duplicate their speed that they put on the field. We can’t duplicate that in practice.
“We understand it,” the St. Charles coach continued. “We understand your angles have to be different. We have to be aware of their fastest players, where they put them and where they line them up. More importantly, their defense, understanding what they will try to take away as far as our offense is concerned.”
Rogers, who rushed for 146 yards and passed for 108 in last year’s title game, is gone, as is running back Logan Gabriel, who ran for 118 yards and three touchdowns.
Ryan, a recent LSU signee, however, is back for the Knights.
“We have to be aware of wherever he is. He either will be a wildcat running back, a receiver, and he could even be at quarterback to run the ball sometime,” Monica said.
The SCC coach said he expects to see Ryan on the defensive side of the ball, as well.
“He basically used to be a (defensive) secondary guy, but they have been keeping him on the offensive side to try and spare him, it looks like. He actually is a DB. I’m sure he’ll be there when the time comes,” said Monica.
Ryan Roberts, the son of former Southeastern Louisiana University head coach Ron Roberts, gets most of the snaps at quarterback for LCA.
“You know he has a football background,” Monica said. “He manages to the game extremely well for them. He’s able to get the ball deep whenever possible. He’s done a nice job of extending plays with his legs.”
The Knights also utilize JuJuan Johnson at quarterback.
“He’s a deeper thrower,” Monica said of Johnson. “When they need a big play, they put the other guy back there. He takes a deeper drop and throws the deeper routes better.”
At running back for LCA is Bren LeBlanc.
“He gets to the perimeter. He’s a game-breaker. We have to get people around him. We can’t let him get started. I don’t think we will catch any of their guys. Our defense has got to play on its feet. They can’t be on the ground. If you miss the guy one time, chances are you won’t get another shot at him,” said Monica.
With or without Ryan lined up at receiver, Roberts has numerous other receiving options with the likes of Cowinn Helaire, Cameron Scott, and Darian Riggs.
“They have some many weapons. That’s why you can’t say you are going to bracket one guy or double-team one guy,” Monica explained. “They will find that and pick that out in a heartbeat, and they will work it to the other guy.
“We just have to be sound in our coverages, whether it be man, zone, or combinations. Our defensive front has to play extremely, extremely well to put pressure when they are throwing, but we can’t allow them to run the football.”
The Knights have enough offensive talent to bring out more boxing analogies.
“I think we have to counter-punch. It’s important for our offense to counter-punch and make sure we look for ourselves to try and make big plays,” said Monica.
The Comets will have to counter-punch against an opposing LCA defense, especially a couple of opposing guys up front as part of the Knights’ 3-4 unit.
LCA’s forward wall consists of Tyrell Lockett and Fitzgerald West. Both stand 6-foot-2, while Lockett is 300 pounds and West weighs in at 310.
“We will be outmanned. I told someone that if it were a pick-up game, not many of our players would be taken,” Monica quipped.
Among the members of the linebacker corps are Trent Hypolite and Brayden Zeigler.
“Hypolite is more of a runner that covers the backside of the backfield. Zeigler is more stout,” said Monica.
A newcomer at linebacker, 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior Masey Lewis, is familiar to SCC. The Comets faced him in the past in a junior varsity game when Lewis was at East Ascension.
“He’s a big, tall guy. He’s very physical. He wasn’t there last year, and he has made them better on defense,” Monica said.
Among the players roaming the secondary for LCA are corners Jordan Allen and Devin Walton, along with safety Brylan Green.
If SCC is to win Monday’s rematch, the Comets may have an indication by the middle of the bout, according to Monica.
“The benchmark on the timeline will be if in about the middle of the second quarter, if you look up and you are right in that ball game, either up or close to them, I think your team starts to get its sea legs and understand that it becomes body-punch, body-punch, let’s see where the knockout blow comes from,” the St. Charles coach said.