Comets and Rebels to vie for state titles this week

Published 2:16 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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The last time both Riverside Academy and St. Charles Catholic played for a football state championship, both teams came home with a trophy.

It was 2016 and, after a hard-fought battle of St. John the Baptist Parish titans on the floor of the Superdome, the Rebels came home with the gold trophy while the Comets left with the silver following a 47-20 Riverside win.

This week both teams are guaranteed to take home a trophy again, but they both could very well be gold.

Seven years later, the two St. John are competing in different football divisions for different football titles, so both could very well be crowned champions at the 2023 Ochsner LHSAA Prep Classic at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans.

Riverside (12-1), the No. 5 seed in the Division IV Select bracket, will play No. 2 seed Southern Lab in the first game of the event Thursday at 3:30 p.m.

St. Charles (13-0), the No. 1 seed in the Division III Select bracket, will play No. 2 seed Calvary Baptist Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

For the Comets, the trip to the Dome has become as much a part of their December as singing Christmas carols. This is the fifth straight year the team has played for a state championship and they have taken home the gold trophy twice and the silver twice in that span. In all, St. Charles has won three championships and has been runner-up five times.

“I’m just proud of the consistency of our players and staff,” said Comets coach Wayne Stein. “They expected to be here. They had a bullseye on their chest all year and answered every challenge. Now we have one last challenge against a great opponent in Calvary Baptist. This senior class is unbelievable – five straight years making it to the state championship. We are not just happy to be in the Dome. It’s strictly a business trip.”

St. Charles reached their destination by taking a hard-fought 10-7 overtime win over No. 4 University Lab. Sophomore Tyler Milioto provided the margin of victory with a 23-yard field goal in the overtime period after the Comets blocked U-High’s attempt.

Stein even iced his own kicker before the winning kick, calling a timeout to see how the Cubs defense was lined up. The Comets stellar defense was led by Southeastern commitment Kyle Cannon, who had 16.5 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the win.

Now the Comets are focused on Calvary Baptist (13-0), which defeated No. 3 Newman 35-27 last week thanks to a last-second interception by Landon Sylvie. Cavaliers quarterback Abram Wardell threw four touchdown passes against the Greenies. Calvary was the winner of the 2020 state title game, which was not played in the Superdome.

Riverside Academy had a little tougher road to New Orleans. The Rebels had to travel to Abbeville to take on undefeated No. 1 seed Vermilion Catholic in monsoon-like conditions. But the only thing that slowed down the Rebels was a 90-minute lightning delay in a 34-7 win.

Even in the mud and the muck, diminutive running back Dedric Lastie managed to run for 260 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Eighth grader Chris Becknell rushed for 62 yards and two more touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Brock Bourgeois passed for 102 yards and eighth grader Kenric Johnson threw for one 19-yard touchdown to senior Jaedon Butler.

The Eagles’ lone touchdown came from a pick 6 in the first half that cut Riverside’s lead to 21-7  – before the rain and lightning forced the lengthy delay. While other teams postponed to Saturday, Rebels coach Lee Roussel said he was determined to keep playing if possible.

“My goal was as long as we can wait this out,” Rebels coach Lee Roussel said. “For two reasons: one, you’ve got the lead and you don’t want to go home and give them time to watch the film. I thought that would have been a disadvantage to us. And two, it’s a two-hour trip and you’ve paid for charter buses.”

After wiping out the Vermilion Catholic concessions stand of Snickers bars to feed his players, Roussel sent his team back on the field.

“It was good for us that our fans took the buses so they couldn’t go home,” Roussel said. “After the rain delay, we came out and there was a long walk back to the field. People were blowing their horns and flicking their lights letting us know they were still there. Seeing that was pretty cool. Our community was great. We walked out in the second half and the stands were still packed. I thought that played a part in the second half. Some of their people might have gone home.”

Bourgeois said playing in the mud was something he’ll always remember.

“It was like a big old slip-an-slide on the field,” he said. “Every time you’d try to run you’d hydroplane.”

“I had a game just like it my freshman year in the first round of the playoffs,” senior offensive lineman Noah Trepagnier said. “We train for different problems. It was muddy over here all week and last week and they made us practice in that so we were prepared.”

There will be no mud in the Superdome on Thursday, but the Rebels still will face a battle for the title. Southern Lab (11-1) rallied from a 19-point deficit, scoring three touchdowns in the final six minutes to take a 38-34 win over the defending state champion, No. 3 Ouachita Christian last week. The win was sealed by Dylan Day’s 45-yard interception return for the go-ahead score with 55 seconds left in the game.

While Stein will be the old pro, coaching his third straight championship game in the Dome, this will be Roussel’s first trip as a head coach, in his second season. He’s been an assistant on four finalist teams, winning titles with Lutcher’s Tim Detillier and twice at Rummel.

Roussel and Stein are also good friends, having stood in each other’s weddings,

“I’m fortunate enough to work with good programs,’ he said. “It never gets old. But it’s about the players and I’m always going to give them credit. We’re not out there blocking and tackling, they are.”