Archbishop Rummel’s journey to its second state championship game in as many seasons has taken a wacky route.
So much for a straight line from its Metairie campus to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome where, on Thursday night, the fifth-seeded Raiders (9-3) will face second-seeded C.E. Byrd of Shreveport (10-2) in the Division I title game.
Envision a nonsymmetric, handwritten, unpleasing-to-the-eye, swirling path of doubts and disappointments and forfeited decals.
Unlike its 2012 campaign, this was no undefeated season.
Catholic League championship? Nope, that went to St. Augustine.
Then there’s the way Rummel lost three games. Head coach Jay Roth aims for, but doesn’t expect, perfection. Roth does demand effort, something he felt he didn’t always receive earlier this season, whether it was players failing to do many of the same things they did a season earlier or complacency in the locker room and on the coaching staff.
After starting this fall 3-2, reaching a state title game appeared to be a false hope.
“As a coach, it’s got you questioning yourself sometimes,” Roth said. “As opposed to last year when every game was fun, everything you did was right and everything worked and everything was easy -this year, it hasn’t been.”
After a 31-28 loss Week 5 at Dutchdown, Roth made the players wear their equipment on the bus back to Metairie. At the next practice, he stripped away the “R” helmet decals.
That’s when the Raiders recovered from early-season losses to Acadiana, Dutchtown and later St. Augustine to find a way to blend the Raiders with former Bandits — Rummel football’s scout team — and find the right mix of former backups now enjoying varsity roles, and practicing next to, not against, classmates they really didn’t know.
“Coach said it’s all about chemistry. You have to like each other,” running back Ivan Phipps said.
Phipps, a senior, has taken a bigger role in the offense. He’s rushed for 1,108 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“We had a little rough time with that (team chemistry) at the beginning of the season,” he said. “We had people that could make plays, but we didn’t have the chemistry. Sometimes it fell apart, and we couldn’t bounce back.
“But we did, and we’re in the state championship.”
Rummel has utilized new starters like sophomore quarterback Chase Fourcade (1,377 yards, 10 TDs, six interceptions), who has given the Raiders instant offense, and has had players switch positions, like junior cornerback Brandon Phillips, who played tailback last season.
“They told me that’s where they wanted me to play, so I did it,” Phillips said.
There’s also fullback Thomas Archer, who earlier this season was a backup offensive lineman. Since his position change, Archer is opening running lanes for seniors Phipps and Keith Fulton (611 yards, 5 TDs), who missed time this season with a foot injury.
There are first-time starters like center Joel Runnebaum, left tackle Andrew Walters and inside linebacker Adam AuDuong, all three-year scout-team players taking advantage of their first action as starters.