December 11, 2006

Louisiana's best put on show in state title games

[rl]NEW ORLEANS - The five state championship games over two days at the State Farm Prep Classic at the Louisiana Superdome did not disappoint.

After a one-year hiatus because of Hurricane Katrina, high school football returned to the Dome, and so did the best the state has to offer.

The event boasted the state's top athlete in John Curtis' Joe McKnight, the state's best quarterback in Class of 2008 standout Randall Mackey and the state's two best teams in John Curtis and Bastrop. Several of Louisiana's top defensive linemen were on display, led by Rolando Melancon. The Lutcher standout led the Bulldogs to the Class 3A state championship.

As expected, top-ranked Curtis won its 21st state championship in a 41-7 win over district rival St. Charles Catholic in the Class 2A game on Friday. McKnight didn't disappoint - he scored two touchdowns and had 106 all-purpose yards on 10 touches. David Seeman took home the team's outstanding player honor after rushing for 129 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Head coach J.T. Curtis, the nation's winningest coach, was quick to credit an outstanding offensive line led by Andrew Nierman and Ruston Rodrigue for his team's 14-0 season.

"I get asked all the time 'Does this ever get old?' " Curtis said. "Does it look like it ever gets old? No. It doesn't. And the reason it doesn't is because every team is a different, unique challenges. It's putting players in position so they can make the best plays possible for the team to win. Watching Joe tonight and not being able to get the ball in his hands and having other guys make big plays is what this is all about. It's about team and team concept. John Curtis will continue with that concept for a long time to come."

It was McKnight's final game, and he ended his career with a 3-0 mark in state champion games.

"It was an unusual feeling because I knew it was going to be our last time to play together," McKnight said. "I'm going to miss all of them. I'm going to miss the underclassmen, too. Most of all I'm going to miss coach J.T.; for taking me into his house and being there for me. For making me stay focused."

Curtis said that McKnight's focus will soon turn to the recruiting process.

"We're going to sit down and go over the opportunities that Joe has and line up his first couple of visits," Curtis said. "Then we'll see what happens moving forward. We're not in a hurry. Joe has been selected for two national honors. He's going to go to Arizona this Wednesday and Thursday and then to New York. When he gets back we'll do some in-home visits and let things unfold."

As for the event's top individual performance, it was pretty much a toss up between Bastrop's Mackey and Lutcher's Melancon.

Mackey won his second consecutive Class 4A outstanding player of the game award after completing 10 of 17 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 51 yards in leading the Rams to a 28-14 win over Archbishop Shaw. Like Bastrop, Shaw came into the game 14-0, but was outmatched in nearly every department. This was a Shaw team that had allowed a mere 53 points all season.

Though the 5-foot-11 Mackey's numbers don't seem overly impressive, his performance was pivotal. He has a cannon for an arm and players like Benton at his disposal. Shaw had to be prepared for the long ball at all times. Benton, who is committed to LSU, finished with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

If Mackey's teammates were covered, he was able to tuck and run effectively. The passing game also provided opportunities for running back Jamal Recasner, who rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown. Mike Green rushed for two touchdowns.

"That player, Mackey, is one of the best players I've ever had to face," Shaw coach Scott Bairnsfather said. "When you think you have him, he gets out of it. When you think you can get him after he scrambles, he completes one over your head … dumps it off. He's got great awareness. He's got a great ability to break tackles - he breaks tackles like a running back. He's got the arm to get it to those receivers 55, 60 yards downfield. It's a tough combination for a defense to deal with."

Melancon took over the game at times in leading Lutcher to a 27-7 win over Independence in the Class 3A title game Friday night. Melancon ended his stellar career where he launched it as a freshman when he led the Bulldogs to a Class 3A state championship. On Friday, the 6-2 Melancon recorded 5.5 tackles. He had two sacks for a loss of 15 yards, an interception and stripped the football from the quarterback once. Melancon is considering LSU, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida.

On top of Melancon's defensive efforts, he traded his usual No. 99 uniform for a No. 66 jersey so he could help on the offensive line in the title game. Lutcher outgained previously undefeated and top-ranked Independence 370-125 in total offense.

Bastrop's offense was upstaged at times only by its own defense, particularly by a defensive line that features three Division I-A commitments. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Kentravis Aubrey is committed to LSU, LeMarcus Williams (6-1, 285) is committed to Alabama and Deddrick Jones (6-4, 225) recently committed to Southern Miss.

"I would say that's the best defensive line I've seen in my life," said Shaw's outstanding running back Daniel Borne, who was held to a mere 48 yards on 19 carries. "Those guys could get off our offensive line and make big plays all the time. It's kind of hard to read the hole when I slide in the hole and this big dude is just sitting there looking at me. It was real tough."

The event's finale on Saturday, the Class 5A title game, provided arguably the best contest. The score was 0-0 at halftime before Acadiana-Scott scored all 13 of its points in the fourth quarter. The last three points came on Drew Alleman's 32-yard field goal as time expired to rally past District 2-5A rival Sulphur for a 13-10 win. Acadiana, which beat Sulphur 14-7 seven weeks ago in district play, got a spark in the fourth quarter after coach Ted Davidson put Kip Jacob at quarterback. The team's best athlete, Jacob started the season at wide receiver but played much of the year at quarterback when Jonathan Morvant suffered a broken wrist.

With Morvant healthy again, Jacob played most of the title game at receiver but was held to one catch. At quarterback, Jacob threw a touchdown pass and rushed for 37 yards on seven carries to lead the way for the Rams - who won five games this season in the final 30 seconds.

In the Class 1A game, Evangel Christian Academy-Shreveport overcame a slow start and determined St. John-Plaquemine for a 24-7 win on Saturday.

Wide receiver Jeremy Little was the game's outstanding player. He made nine catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Jordan Powell completed 24 of 29 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns. He bounced back from having an interception returned for a touchdown by Spenser Williams for St. John's only points of the game.

Evangel defensive end Troy Evans helped his unit pitch a shutout. Evans registered nine tackles - including two sacks and a tackle for a loss. Linebacker Lydell Smith had seven tackles and linebacker Zack Summage had 6.5 tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

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