Parkway senior linebacker Austin Averitt said the Panthers knew heading into the 2013 season that they would play every playoff game on the road.
And they expected to play five.
The No. 2 seed Panthers (13-0) will play that fifth playoff game for the Class 5A state championship Saturday against No. 1 Acadiana (13-1) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans — Parkway’s first playoff game at a neutral site.
“We knew from Day One that we would be playing the (road playoff games), and we knew we had to be road warriors,” Averitt said. “Each game was going to be a test of our focus and how we were going to just come out there and put it to work.
“We said, ‘Alright, we take it as a slap in the face since we (the players) didn’t do anything. But we also knew it would be a challenge.”
The Panthers took to the road after the LHSAA penalized the school resulting from a 2012 incident in which Live Oak head coach Barry ‘Tut’ Musemeche was handcuffed during warmups of a playoff game at Parkway’s stadium.
Parkway’s playoff road has winded near and far — heading just across the river to play Captain Shreve (41-7) before traveling south to play East St. John (52-25), Zachary (49-34) and Covington (28-27).
Coach David Feaster said the Panthers were lucky not to catch any rain in those games, and his team will have a home-field feeling not being in another team’s stadium Saturday.
“We almost feel like it’s homefield advantage for us partly because we really like playing on turf,” Feaster said. “I think our team is very conducive to playing indoors and not having to worry about the elements.
“We came out smelling like a rose and were tremendously blessed on all those occasions. (At Covington), it starts raining as we go into the locker room (after the game). We know what it’s going to be in the Dome — 72 degrees and a great atmosphere.”
The 35-member senior class is the first to lead Parkway to the semifinals and now a championship game, and quarterback Brandon Harris said the feeling of being trailblazers is “unbelivable.”
“We’re a team that’s relied on our faith the entire season, and it’s unbelivable to be in the situation we’re in and getting an opportunity to play for a state championship against a good Acadiana team,” Harris said. “The season has gone by in a blink of an eye, and it seems like yesterday that we were preparing for Calvary in the season-opener. Now we’re playing in a state championship game Saturday.”
Harris followed with a one-liner when asked about the importance of a neutral field as opposed to be playing in another team’s home stadium.
“Can I sling the ball farther?” Harris asked. “I don’t know man, but it’s exciting.”
Harris and Averitt were key figures in Parkway’s comeback victory at Covington.
The quarterback rushed for 128 yards and added 110 while accounting for three scores.
After Covington jumped ahead 14-0 and led 27-21 at the half, Averitt led the Parkway defense to a second-half shutout by intercepting two passes and a game-sealing tackle on running back C.J. Sims on fourth down.
“We run this thing called ‘gap’ where I’m on the line on all fours in front of the guard, and I just kinda slipped through there, went behind all the lead blockers and I got (Sims) from behind for the 2-yard loss,” said Averitt, a 5-foot-7, 170-pounder. “It felt great, and I couldn’t without the line and the whole defense. We just picked it up.”
Feaster joked after the win that Covington wouldn’t have given his diminutive linebacker a jersey if he just walked over in plainclothes.
“He doesn’t look like a player, but he just makes plays all the time,” Feaster said.
Zachary challenged Parkway in the quarters, but a strong Panthers’ second half allowed them to pull away for a 49-34 win. The Panthers won the first two rounds by a combined 93-35, even getting a semi home game at Lee Hedges Stadium against Shreve.
If there was no penalty, Parkway would have hosted the first and second rounds as well as the semifinals.
But it’s a moot point now, and Averitt said the team didn’t dwell on it.
“Nothing little like that was going to bother us,” Averitt said. “We took it as a challenge to be successful and do it, which we did. It’s a big achievement by itself, and to say that we did it is amazing, especially with all my brothers (teammates) here.”
Of course Parkway will be visitor in the Superdome as they are lower seed, but Harris said the visiting locker room has a special meaning for him.
“I was watching the Saints game (Sunday night), and I am a huge Cam Newton fan,” Harris said. “I’m thinking, ‘Dang, Cam Newton is in a stadium that I will playing in (Saturday). I will be in the same locker room he was in. It’s unbelievable.”