ZACHARY As distraught and defeated Parkway Panthers slowly exited the field with their heads down and eyes full of tears following a Class 5A semifinal loss to Zachary on Friday, one non-Parkway staff member was there to console the downtrodden athletes.
Former Parkway quarterback Brandon Harris, now the starter as a sophomore at LSU, offered a shoulder, a hug, words of encouragement – whatever was needed to steady some of his former teammates and others guys simply trying to do what he did – carry on the Panthers’ tradition.
And yes, the Panthers have a tradition.
“It’s awesome and it means a whole lot to us,” Parkway head coach David Feaster said. “Our kids respect him. They’ve always liked him. When they see him on Saturdays and then he comes back and talks to the team it means a lot to them. We hope it’s something we can continue to build off of.”
Former coach Jim Gatlin set the table and Feaster has knocked it out of the park in Bossier City. Despite Friday’s loss to the Broncos, a defeat that kept the Panthers one step from the Superdome, don’t be fooled: Parkway offers Shreveport-Bossier City its best opportunity to snap the now-42-year public-school state championship drought.
Since climbing to Class 5A in 2011, Parkway has rolled through the competition with 53 wins and 10 losses. That 84-percent winning clip is tops in the state in that time among recent contenders and champions.
West Monroe, the 2011 5A champions are 56-12 (82 percent) since 2011. Acadiana, the two-time defending champs, are 49-14 (78 percent). Byrd is 53-9 the past five seasons. One of those (2013) was spent in the select portion of the LHSAA postseason.
“I can’t believe it,” Feaster said. “In our district, which we consider to be pretty tough, we beat Byrd three out of five, we beat Haughton and Airline four out of five and the others five of five.”
No matter whether Feaster’s athletes are homegrown, majority-to-minority transfers or otherwise, those numbers and Harris’ presence on the sideline Friday night are just two examples of the foundation established in South Bossier.
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, there to check up on Bulldogs commit and Parkway star C.J. Morgan, was also on the sideline Friday night.
Harris didn’t have to stay on the Parkway sideline all night. Although it was very chilly, the kid who led Parkway to the 5A title game two years ago stayed with his boys. Mullen was there until the third quarter. Louisiana Tech, the future home of Parkway quarterback Keondre Wudtee, was also in attendance.
The presence of high-profile SEC and college football personnel does nothing but motivate the future Parkway stars. Some were on the field Friday night, but there were others in the stands, perhaps their father was one of the fellas who approached Mullen to post a selfie with the family.
Just ask the kids over at Evangel – and Calvary to an extent now, what it’s like to have big-name coaches on campus all the time. It’s a great motivating tool.
The game’s big names and former Parkway stars weren’t the only source of inspiration for the black and red on Friday night. With just a few seconds remaining, sophomore wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. lined up wide right. Normally, this would not be a surprise as Marshall is one of Parkway’s biggest threats. However, minutes before, Marshall was injured and was obviously rendered to a one-legged performer. That didn’t stop him from taking that final snap despite the fact the game was out of reach.
With just 6 seconds remaining, Marshall was the target on a Wudtee fade in the end zone, but the play was whistled dead. Even if the touchdown pass was completed, time would’ve run out and the Panthers would’ve been at least one touchdown shy. But that effort is symbolic of Parkway’s success and why the Panthers will be contenders moving forward.
Soon, Wudtee, Morgan and others will be shoulder to shoulder with Harris cheering their former team on. And their presence will command respect, too.
If not for some crazy circumstances (often caused by their own doing) over the past few seasons, the Panthers may have already ended that public school title drought.
Two seasons ago, Parkway wasn’t allowed to play at home in the playoffs due to an on-field incident during a postseason game. Last year, Parkway was ineligible for the entire postseason.
“We felt like (2014) was our best team,” Feaster said. “You look at the adversity they’ve had to face over the past two years, completely unwarranted, and they overcame that. I’m so proud of them to have this remarkable season.”
But in typical Panthers fashion, luck wasn’t their friend this year, either. With last year’s rules, Friday’s game would’ve been played in Bossier City. In January, the LHSAA created a rule saying the best seed would host semifinal games no matter the situation.
“If we played at Parkway tonight, I hate to say it, we would have been rolling,” Feaster said. “This time it’s nobody’s fault. I came back from the LHSAA meeting and told everyone the only rule change that matters is the semifinal one. I said, ‘We have to try to win them all.’
“We couldn’t quite do that, so it’s our own fault.”
In Week 4, the Panthers fell 56-21 to Evangel, one of three teams to share the District 1-5A title.
“But we have to get better,” Feaster said. “Two years ago, Acadiana scored 100 on us in the Dome. This year we shut them down (55-28 in the second round). That’s something we’ve been working on for two years. We’ll go to work on how Zachary beat us all summer.
“We’ll challenge our guys to get bigger, faster and stronger so they can come out and compete with teams like this.”
If Parkway catches a break or to one of these days, watch out.