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Catholics competing for a crown

Baton Rouge Catholic is currently playing Archbishop Rummel of New Orleans (actually Metairie, an unincorporated area in Jefferson Parish) for the Louisiana “Division I select” high school football state championship in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the Big Easy.

Rummel has widely been considered as Louisiana’s best high school football team this season. The Raiders’ lone loss was 10-3 to Don Bosco Prep, a powerhouse from Bergen, New Jersey. The Raiders won the Division I select championship in 2013 and the Class 5A championship in 2012, the last year public and private schools played against one another in the playoffs.

Rummel is a member of New Orleans’ Catholic League, which currently consists of seven all-boys schools. I attended Brother Martin, another Catholic League member. When I attended Brother Martin, the Crusaders never lost to Rummel, part of an 12-game winning streak over the Raiders between 1983 and 1994.

Since Jay Roth took over as Rummel’s coach in 1995, the Raiders have never lost to Martin. That’s 22 consecutive games. Roth is 206-45 in 21 seasons at his alma mater, and earlier this season, he passed the late Bobby Conlin, Brother Martin’s coach from 1970 through 1996, as the winnigest coach in the Catholic League. Conlin, who passed away in July 1997, only eight months following his retirement, was 203-100-5.

Roth played quarterback at Rummel from 1977-80 for his father, Easten Roth, who was the Raiders’ coach at the time. I met Easten when I was covering football in the Baton Rouge area for The Advocate. Great man. Easten still does radio in Ascension Parish for Dutchtown, East Ascension and St. Amant high schools.

Catholic had to win two games on the road in dramatic fashion to reach the final. It won 49-48 over Brother Martin in the quarterfinals after stopping the Crusaders on a two-point conversion in the final minute, then went to Shreveport and rallied from a 21-0 third quarter deficit to defeat Evangel 27-21. See my previous post for more about Evangel.

The Bears are coached by the legendary Dale Weiner, who is one of Louisiana’s greatest high school football coaches, but more importantly, one of its greatest men, period. He’s won 306 games during his distinguished career at four schools, and been at Catholic since 1997.

I had the good fortune to cover Catholic many times when I worked for The Advocate, and some of my most memorable games involved Weiner’s teams.

The Bears haven’t reached the finals since 1990, when they lost 52-10 to Ruston. Catholic began that game by recovering an onside kick, but it could only get a field goal, and the Bearcats then unleashed their full fury. That Ruston team is widely considered to be one of the best to play high school football in Louisiana.

Rummel and Catholic are tied 7-7 in the second quarter. Looks like it will go down to the wire.

Three states away

While Kansas’ high school football playoffs are underway, Louisiana is playing the final week of its high school football regular season this weekend. It actually ends today with a few games in the New Orleans area, including my alma mater, Brother Martin, playing Archbishop Rummel at East Jefferson High School’s Joe Yenni Stadium.

Saturday high school football games in the Big Easy are common, especially for Catholic high schools. There are many more schools than available stadiums in the New Orleans metropolitan area, and teams must participate in a lottery for dates they want to host. The prime slot, obviously, is Friday night, but more often than not, schools must opt to play Thursday night, or Saturday, whether it be in the afternoon or evening.

Brother Martin is one of those schools which often plays on Saturday. The Crusaders use one of two stadiums located in New Orleans’ City Park, Tad Gormley and Pan American, as their home field, and thus must jockey with other schools for available dates. Last week, the Crusaders hosted Jesuit at Tad Gormley on Saturday.

The two Catholic high schools in Jefferson Parsih, Archbishop Rummel in Metairie and Archbishop Shaw in Marrero, NEVER get to use the stadiums at East Jefferson and West Jefferson, respectively, on Friday nights, save for the playoffs when the Jefferson Parish public school teams are either out of the playoffs or on the road.

Rummel has the land to build its own stadium, but instead makes the 10-minute drive on West Metairie Avenue to Joe Yenni, which has seating for nearly 10,000 and a Field Turf playing surface. Shaw has its own baseball field but has opted against building a football stadium around its existing practice field, instead driving through the Harvey Tunnel to West Jeff’s Hoss Memtsas Stadium, which is an exact copy of Joe Yenni.

Both Joe Yenni and Hoss Memtsas have spectacular press box views. At Yenni, you can see the Huey P. Long Bridge across the Mississippi River to the south, and at Memtsas, you can see traffic on the West Bank Expressway to the south, and downtown New Orleans to the northwest.