When No. 2 Byrd kicks off the Division I state championship game against No. 5 Archbishop Rummel on Thursday night, the 2013 Yellow Jackets will be somewhere the program has never been before – the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
In fact, no public school from Shreveport-Bossier City has set foot in the Dome since state football championships started in that venue in 1981. Fair Park in 1974 is the last local public school to play for a state championship and Captain Shreve (1973) is the last local public institution to win a state football title.
Parkway (Class 5A) will join Byrd in that group Saturday.
Byrd coach Mike Suggs said the last two weeks have been frenetic since the Yellow Jackets’ 14-10 semifinals win against Holy Cross.
“It means a lot to not only me as a coach but to the players obviously,” said Suggs, who leads Byrd to its first state championship appearance since 1962 and possibly its first football title since 1949. “The whole community, we’ve gotten so much contact from alums and how they are excited about the game. The opportunity to make it back to the championship game means a lot to everybody involved.
“Hopefully we’re moving forward as a program. This isn’t something that happens very often, and we want to get to where we’re expected to make deep playoff runs every year.”
While Byrd (11-1) is full of first-timers in a championship setting, Rummel (9-3) is the defending Class 5A champions (beat Barbe in 2012) and will be playing in its third championship game since 2009 (lost to West Monroe).
“(Rummel coach Jay Roth) always has well-disciplined teams, and they are a quarters/semis/finals team every year,” Suggs said. “They’re the same power running, structured team as usual and are physical and run to the ball on defense.”
Rummel senior Ivan Phipps (1,108 yards and 13 touchdowns) leads a rushing attack that’s rolled up more than 2,200 yards. The Raiders like to throw more than Byrd, and quarterback Chase Fourcade has 1,377 passing yards with 10 touchdowns to six interceptions.
“They’re a hard, driving team that makes big plays every now and then,” said Byrd defensive lineman Chandler Nance. “But they are mainly a drive-it-down-your-throat team every play – like to go straight up the middle.
“We can’t allow anything big to happen, and we have to slow them down and let our offense do what they do best.”
And that’s run the football. Byrd’s Wing-T offense gained more than 3,600 yards with fullback Louis Mills (928 yards and 16 touchdowns) leading eight backs with at least 150 yards. Dominic Haggerty has 785 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a wingback.
Mills hasn’t played a full game for at least the last three contests with a shoulder and thigh injury, but he says he feels better with the bye week.
“I’ve been wearing spider pads to take some of the contact off (the shoulder), but it still feels normal,” Mills said. “The only thing that hurts is when I fall directly on (the shoulder).
“It feels good to be part of something big like we have here, and all of the other running backs can step up and make big plays. It still feels unbelievable that we made it this far, but it’s a dream come true.”
Mills said the Rummel defensive line pops on film as that unit spearheads a defense that allows an average of 16 points.
Byrd’s leaned on a defense that allows 13 points per game to teams not named Parkway (Panthers won 52-29 in Yellow Jackets’ lone loss).
Rummel avenged one of its regular season losses by beating St. Augustine in the semis, and the Raiders count a Week 3 loss to Acadiana (42-28) and a Week 5 loss to Dutchtown (31-28) in their losses.
The Yellow Jackets have beaten two other Catholic League teams (Archbishop Shaw and Holy Cross) in the playoffs.
Although most of Byrd’s seniors played sparingly in the 2011 quarterfinals win against Rummel as sophomores, Mills said these 29 seniors learned from that 2011 semifinals run in their current bid for a state title.
“Just watching how those seniors took leadership, how everyone was just all into it,” Mills said. “Everyone was a leader, and listening to each other made an impact on us.”