By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
NEW ORLEANS — There’s been a sense of destiny around this Calvary Baptist football team since the Cavs turned the page from last season.
Signature early wins over big-school city foes Byrd and Captain Shreve embellished it. Toppling two other tough non-district customers, Wossman and especially a Westgate team that almost derailed Ruston’s run to its own state title, heightened the feeling.
But even during playoff victories at home over strong teams from Parkview Baptist and Newman, the Cavaliers never stared at bleak prospects coming down to the wire.
That’s where the sense of destiny came in handy Saturday evening in the clutch at the Caesars’ Superdome, in the LHSAA’s Division III Select state championship game.
Finally, Calvary stared at a scoreboard with a grim count — but didn’t blink. The Cavaliers scored the game’s last three touchdowns, the last two in the final three minutes, the last one with 18 seconds left and erased a 15-point deficit to set off a perfect championship celebration – sidetracked, briefly and appropriately enough, by one final replay — capping a stunning 34-28 victory over two-time defending champion St. Charles Catholic.
The game-winning TD was a 20-yard Abram Wardell throw down the middle to Kolby Thomas, finishing a five-snap, 51-yard drive that began just 26 seconds earlier.
It was only possible by a foot or so, the distance Calvary’s defense didn’t yield on fourth-and-1 just past midfield with 50 seconds to go. Comets’ coach Wayne Stein decided against punting and defending a Cavs’ attack that had just zoomed 80 yards on seven plays to draw within 28-26 on Aubrey Hermes’ 20-yard catch from Wardell with 2:47 remaining.
St. Charles needed two first downs to wipe that time away, stretch its win streak to 21 and three-peat. But the blend of confusion in the fourth-down huddle, after a timeout, plus Calvary’s defense was a lethal combination. Following a measurement, and TV replay confirmation, it provided the chance the Cavs cashed in.
“It was a half yard to win the state championship, and I felt good about the matchup,” said Stein. “We had a little miscommunication but (quarterback) Brady (St. Pierre) did a great job of almost salvaging it.
“I still felt confident in our defense. We’ve had one of the best defenses in the state. But I tip my cap to Calvary. It’s about what they did, not about what we didn’t do.”
The Cavs’ last two scoring drives combined took just a second under two minutes, reflecting their quick-strike ability, and self-belief.
“The kids know we can score the football. We have all year long,” said coach Rodney Guin, finally celebrating triumph in the Caesars Superdome to end his 23rd season as a head coach, his 41st overall, and his seventh at Calvary.
“One thing they have, is they’re confident. Sometimes I think they’re too confident. We got the first touchdown (down 28-13) and (then) we weren’t going for a field goal at the end. They blocked our first extra point. For us, it was score or get beat,” he said.
“They gave us a chance, going for it on fourth down,” said Guin, “and (we got) a short field and great plays by the quarterback.”
Wardell found Thomas on a 19-yard curl route down to the SCC 32, then spiked the ball before he scrambled 12 yards out of bounds at the 20 with 36 seconds left. He unsuccessfully tried to find John Simon IV in the left corner of the end zone and 26 ticks remained.
On the first snap, Wardell said he was “looking off the safety, trying to bait him to the left, and then to come back to my guy KT. Then on the bender, he beat his man, and that’s all she wrote.”
The game-winner, said Thomas, “was an option route. I could go in, or I could go straight. I faked in, and went straight, and beat him. My quarterback played great all night, and he threw up a 50-50 ball, trusted me to get it, and I went up and got it.”
The Comets had struck on first-half touchdowns of 68 and 46 yards but couldn’t dial up any last-second magic. Calvary’s celebration charge was initially repelled by the refs, who had to use replay once more to sort through if a last-gasp botched hook-and-ladder pass play was a fumble, or an incompletion, and most critically, if there was time left on the clock.
There wasn’t, prompting unbridled joy as the Cavaliers’ fourth state title, and their first perfect season, was secured.
Said SCC’s Stein: “I thought if we got it into late in the fourth quarter, it was our advantage because we’ve been in those more than they have this year. But give credit to their kids and coaching staff for finding a way to get it done.”
It resulted from 249 passing yards by Wardell on 24-of-32 aim to six receivers, and 191 hard-earned rushing yards on a career-high 30 carries by Calvary’s Prep Classic Most Outstanding Player, junior running back James Simon. His three TDs were first-half darts of 1 and 3 yards, then a 25-yarder late in the third quarter to finish a vital 10-play, 82-yard march that launched Calvary’s comeback.
“We didn’t do anything different,” said Guin, explaining the rally. “I think they got a little tired in the second half, and we finally made some plays. We didn’t make plays in the first half, we drove the ball and didn’t score. When it was on the line, we came through.”
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