I had heard all about the lean years and long losing streaks.
And yet my first memory of seeing the Carencro Golden Bears playoff football in person was actually a pretty impressive one.
It was a junior year of high school and Acadiana’s Wreckin’ Rams was a heavy favorite at Carencro. The Bears gave the Rams all they wanted, before Acadiana somehow escaped with a 34-33 win that night in 1982.
At the time, I had, like everyone else, no idea what was about to happen to Carencro High’s football program, nor any inclination of how many great moments in the future I would fortunately be able to witness as it reached heights few dreamed possible.
By 1985, the Bears beat Acadiana for the first time in school history in a staggering 56-24 fashion.
By 1986, the Bears did it again (27-20 over the Rams) and actually made it to the postseason under Pat Kee while tying for first place in the district standings, along with New Iberia.
By 1990, offensive coordinator Mac Barousse took over as the head coach and a decade of high school football memories that no one in these parts will likely ever forget had been ignited.
Through the Years: St. Thomas More
Through the Years: Northside High
Through the Years: Acadiana High
Through the Years: Lafayette High
I knew a little about Mac Barousse, mostly the part he played in some fancy, pass-happy Opelousas High offenses in the mid-1980s.
I can still remember chatting with him whenever I could in the press box where he typically performed his coordinator duties.
What Golden Bears’ fans got, though, was far from a repeat of his OHS days. It was much more like the St. Martinville dynasty a decade before.
Very early on during his reign, Barousse explained to me his philosophy that it’s hard to win in the harsh weather that late November and early December often brings if you’re throwing the ball too much.
Barousse would probably be the first to tell you that he couldn’t have done it without great players. Few, though, that I ever saw did a better job of handling, dealing with and utilizing the kind of athletes the Bears sported in the 1990s.
I can still remember talking to Barousse on the phone as his Bears lost heartbreakers in the first round of the state playoffs in 1990 and 1991. You could just sense that he felt like he was close.
Kevin Faulk was a freshman safety on that 1991 season. By 1992, he was the sophomore quarterback on a backfield with the power of Ernest Lazard and the speed of Derrick Beavers. It was something to behold.
It’s a good thing that Carencro escaped that early-round playoff scare from Shaw that year, because we all would have been deprived of the absolute offensive clinic that unit unleashed on St. Augustine’s defense at Tad Gormley Stadium in the quarterfinals.
Even more, it would have kept the Golden Bears from being the first Lafayette Parish team to win a state championship and not just win it, but beat a legendary program like Neville in dramatic fashion with a 28-27 overtime win on Joe Bellow’s blocked extra point.
In such a short period of time, Carencro’s program had gone from a laughing-stock to the team that everyone in these parts hoped could beat. For the rest of the decade, only a few were successful.
Barousse kept rolling out big-play backs and kept riding them like any wise high school coach would do. The Faulk era gave way to Damien James and John Bernard and Theo Babineaux. The list went on and on.
Throughout the program’s fantastic climb, they weren’t the most popular team around. The coaches were brash. And yet they somehow made old-school power football look glamorous and a must-see event for the fans.
They used speed to make playing defense look exciting. And the Bears leaned on Tony Courville to make the kicking game a bigger weapon than most programs before them ever imagined.
They even had a fancy name for their football stadium – the CroDome.
Game nights brought the smell of barbecue burgers for some of us, but most importantly a relationship of a town and a football team. The Golden Bears brought a sense of pride to the Carencro community that’s a perfect illustration of what can make high school football so special.
The Barousse era eventually gave way to Lance Guidry, who would later be replaced by Brent Indest. It was two decades of aggressive, in-your-face head coaching and it worked.
Indest, much like Barousse, used a basic and often boring offensive approach to get the Golden Bears back to the Superdome in 2011.
These days, things are a little different and yet not so much at the same time. Rip Eveland, who was around the program before Barousse arrived, is the head coach and Carencro’s great star Faulk is running the offense.
Starting quarterback Tyler Gaspard threw for over 1,300 yards last year. The Bears are hoping for a more consistent running game this fall. The defense looks promising as well.
And Friday nights in the fall are still special in Carencro.