Bulldogs one step closer to New Orleans
Last year's playoff run was so bittersweet for Ascension Catholic.
Their sprint to the state title game was filled with many wonderful memories that included blowing their opponents away by a combined score of 119-28. They had the honor of punching their ticket to the Superdome on their own home field.
It was the school's first title game appearance since 1992.
Then things ended bitterly.
The day before the championship game, two players were injured in a car wreck. During the game, three other starters were sidelined with injuries--including leading rusher Jai Williams.
With so many starters out, the Bulldogs lost to Lafayette Christian, 10-0.
What made it all that much worse was seeing the game play out the way it did and knowing a full-strength Ascension Catholic squad was so much better than their opponent. It was clear that if not for the injuries, the Bulldogs would have run away with the school's fourth state title.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Now, they have a chance to wash away that terrible memory. They have a chance to once again roll to New Orleans and play for that state crown.
They've been hungry all season. What they've been able to do up until this point has been very impressive.
They improved on last year's record and finished the regular season 9-1. This included a 12-7 win over then undefeated and top-ranked Kentwood.
Their lone loss was a 22-19 road defeat to Southern Lab, the top-seeded team in the Division-IV playoffs.
This netted Ascension Catholic the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. In the opening round, they lived up to the billing, throttling Hanson Memorial, 52-8.
But not much of this comes as a surprise.
Everyone knew the Bulldogs would be loaded coming into the season. They returned almost everyone from the team that reached the title game last year.
Williams has gotten even better. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and well over 20 touchdowns during the regular season.
His running mate Jamar Barber is still running well behind what has been a terrific offensive line for the Bulldogs.
Barber and Williams have also played extremely well for the Ascension Catholic defense, along with players like Dillion Davis, John Broussard and Eric Simon, Jr.
During the regular season, the Bulldogs surrendered just 13 points per game.
They held Southern Lab to just 22. The Kittens averaged 50 in their four other district matchups.
And that unit may be getting even better at the right time. Two-time all-district safety Mason Zeringue is finally getting back on the field, after missing nearly the entire regular season with a knee sprain.
Ascension Catholic is trying to reach back-to-back title games for the first time since 1991 and 1992. They lost in '91, then came back with a dominating championship run in '92.
Can they duplicate that trend within the next few weeks?
They have the players, they have the coaches and they certainly have the heart and drive to get it done.
They've been chomping at the bit to get back to the dome since the final seconds ticked off of the clock in last year's title game. Now, they're almost there.
When it comes to heart, I'll never doubt them. What I saw them do in last year's Division-IV championship game was tremendous.
At one point, they were down four starters on defense, and they were missing their top four running backs on offense. Still, they fought, fought and never stopped fighting.
Despite being so heavily undermanned, they were still only down 3-0 late in the fourth quarter. Lafayette Christian didn't put the game out of reach until they came up with a pick-six in the waning minutes.
The Bulldogs still have some heavy lifting to do. To get to the dome, they'll have to get past Catholic of Pointe Coupee and Vermillion Catholic.
Once they get there, they'll most likely face Southern Lab, a team they haven't beaten since they've played in District 6-1A.
But there's hope this year.
Every other season, Southern Lab has beaten them handily. This year, the Kittens won the game, but Ascension Catholic outplayed them.
The Bulldogs left that game feeling like they were the better team. Well, now it's time for them to prove it.
I hope we get to see the rematch in New Orleans in three weeks.