It was the most anticipated game in North Louisiana’s high school football regular season — the only game played in this part of the state where you would be able to read brief accounts in both Sports Illustrated and USA Today.
And Many’s 25-17 victory of Newman last Friday night did not disappoint.
When the No. 1 recruit in the nation, Newman quarterback Arch Manning, traveled into the rolling hills of Sabine Parish to play against one of the best linebackers in the nation – Many’s Tackett Curtis — it was a battle of epic proportions.
The game was hyped as Manning vs. Curtis, but it was bigger than that. There were several players on the field who deserved mention.
Like Many’s Swazy Carheel, the junior defensive end who was presented the game ball in front of his teammates and coaches by the Many radio sideline reporter, Randy Bostian, after the game.
Another Tiger who had a big night was corner Tylen Singleton, a four-star junior who will have his name mentioned as one of the best prospects in the state next year. He harassed both the Newman receiving corps and Manning for most of the game’s 48 minutes.
The Greenies did not complete a single pass in the first quarter.
“We couldn’t block them,” former New Orleans quarterback, Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer, and Arch’s grandfather Archie Manning texted a friend after the game.
His analysis was spot on.
The elder Manning arrived with his oldest son, Arch’s dad, Cooper, and other Newman supporters at the Natchitoches Regional Airport just after 4 o’clock Friday afternoon. They landed in a private jet, a Global Express 7500, which was in Greece the day before and back in Greece the day following this Louisiana high school football clash of the titans. If private jets could talk, what stories they could tell.
Unlike his days of watching his son Peyton in Neyland Stadium, Archie was not in disguise at John W. Curtis Stadium Friday night.
Neither was Tackett’s grandfather, who the stadium is named after, who watched his grandson play in the biggest regular season game of his high school career. And watched his son, Many head coach Jess Curtis, coach in the biggest game in school history – at least when it comes to the gate.
Many’s previous record for gate receipts was a semifinal game against Sterlington, when Many collected $20,000. Friday night’s game, at $10 a ticket, beat that by $8,000.
It was the stuff high school football dreams are made of. And a fire marshal’s nightmare.
To most watching it, the game didn’t feel as close as the score indicated. And it shouldn’t have been that close as the Tigers missed some opportunities to put their paws on the Greenies’ throats.
But when the other team has the No. 1 prospect in America catching snaps from center, there is always a chance.
Just looking at young Manning, there is nothing that screams All-American — until you watch him throw a football. Arm speed? Off the charts. Decision making? It’s like he has had access to the best quarterback coaching known to man. Oh, wait …
In the body language department, Arch Manning is the most poker-faced football player I have ever seen. There are no theatrics, hand gestures, and “Omaha” calls like his Uncle Peyton loved, and no facial expressions that give it away like we have seen from his other uncle, Eli.
There was no getting in the face of his teammates to give them a rah-rah speech on the sideline.
When Many failed to the put the game away with only a couple of minutes remaining, you half-way expected Manning to guide the Greenies on a 99-yard drive to tie the game as the regulation clock expired.
But like Archie said: angry Tigers are hard to block.
One of the angry Tigers, Tackett Curtis, who played quarterback and linebacker — he barely left the playing field — reflected on what took place.
“This is what we live for down here,” Curtis said. “It was an awesome turnout. Everybody’s here. I couldn’t ask for a better game, a better atmosphere.”
Sooner rather than later, Curtis will play his last game as a Many Tiger. When he leaves Louisiana behind and moves on to Southern California, there will be things he misses about this chapter of his life.
“I’m going to miss my close friends that I’ve grown up with down here,” Curtis said. “This community, that’s what I’m going to miss the most. Everybody says there is nothing like Friday nights in your hometown. I think that’s true.”
His head coach – and his uncle – spoke to his team after the game.
“What a war,” Jess Curtis said to his players. “It lived up the billing, didn’t it?”
Yes it did, coach!
But there wasn’t any trophy presentation at the end of this one, and that’s what the head coach reminded his players of after the game. That will not be the case December 8-10 in the Caesars Superdome at the LHSAA Prep Classic.
That’s where the Many Tigers plan to be. It’s where they have unfinished business after last year’s 17-6 state championship loss to Amite.
And while it’s great to beat the No. 1 prospect in the nation in front of a record home crowd, nothing beats holding a state championship trophy above your head at midfield of the Caesars Superdome. Ask Jess Curtis, Tackett Curtis, and the rest of the Many Tigers how they know.
Contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org