There is nothing new under the sun.
Or the Mercedes-Benz Superdome lights.
Evangel and Haynesville will play for state titles in New Orleans this weekend. Both carry incredible championship legacies into the Dome.
“It just feels right,” Evangel senior Dakota Duron said. “We look forward to this so much all year. Fans are always telling us, ‘You have to take us to the Dome. You have to win for us so we can go to New Orleans.’ It’s something Evangel loves.”
For Duron, the trip south is routine, a fitting way to end his high school career. He remembers traveling to the Dome as each of his three older brothers quarterbacked the Eagles (12-2) to state. Then, two years ago, Duron was a receiver on an Evangel championship team. There will be few surprises this season.
“You go down, stop in Baton Rouge to eat at TJ Ribs,” Duron said. “I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’ve made the trip so many times. It’s one of the great traditions here at Evangel.”
Evangel’s opponent in Saturday’s 2A championship game, John Curtis, is just as familiar. Curtis (13-0) knocked Evangel out of the playoffs in the semifinals last season.
This year, the Eagles battled University High in the semis and came out with a 52-45 win to set up another highly anticipated showdown against the Patriots.
“When you run out on that field at noon Saturday, you’re not going to be feeling any bumps or bruises,” Evangel coach Phillip Deas said. “It’s just going to be a great football game.”
No. 2 Haynesville (11-2), which will play top-seeded Ouachita Christian (14-0) in the 1A title game Friday, has also racked up numerous championships, with 15 in program history.
“There will be a huge group of fans riding buses down for the game,” Haynesville coach David Franklin said. “The town is very excited.”
But the Golden Tornado hasn’t been down to New Orleans since 2009, when it won the 1A crown, 19-12, against South Plaquemines.
“When you don’t go often, it makes it a little more special when you get to go,” Franklin said.
Now, with Haynesville back in the spotlight — the 2009 trip was the first since 2000 — the community has come alive.
“My phone has not stopped ringing,” Franklin said. “Going to state means so much to this community, to the fans. There’s not a lot of excitement in our small town, so football is something everyone really looks forward to. I’ve heard from a lot of former players who won championships. Everyone wants to do something to help.”
Evangel has won 13 total state championships, including 2009-10 against Curtis. The year before, Curtis topped Evangel 35-21, and in 2007, Curtis knocked the Eagles out in the semifinals.
“They are such a great program, so it just seems right that we would be playing them in the championship,” Duron said. “I knew they would be there. We just had to take care of our part, and I knew we would meet in the Dome like usual.”
The Eagles and Patriots have been locks to play in New Orleans for a decade, and both have had success in the same seasons.
Evangel and Curtis both won championships in 2005-06, with Curtis in 2A and Evangel in 1A. In 2004, Evangel lost the 5A championship game, and Curtis lost in the 4A title game. Both won it all, Evangel in 5A and Curtis in 4A, in 2003.
“Being familiar with the routine of playing road games is huge for us,” Deas said. “We always try to schedule a lot of road trips where we have to stay over night so we can get in the habit of traveling, staying in hotels, and it’s not a brand new experience.”
The Eagles aren’t used to playing at noon, the scheduled start for Saturday’s 2A final, but an early kickoff will be a minor adjustment.
“Having been to the Dome before, knowing the hotel and walkthrough, I think is a huge advantage,” Deas said. “You’re not mesmerized by the lights of the Dome. For our guys, it’s where we play for state championships.”
Connect with Brent Shirley on Twitter at @bshirley08.