St. Mary’s knows people look at its schedule and wonder if the unbeaten Tigers are really as good as their record.
Coach Lee Doty takes offense to the notion his team didn’t face any challenges as it rolled through the regular season, winning every game by at least 14 points. He scoffs at those who weren’t impressed by a quarterfinal rout of Hamilton Christian, the District 4-1A champs whose only other loss came to 2A quarterfinalist Pickering.
The Division IV semifinals probably should have put the ‘‘overrated’’ theory to rest, thanks to St. Mary’s 49-42 win on the road over No. 1 seed Ascension Episcopal. Any remaining doubters could be silenced Friday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when St. Mary’s faces Southern Lab for the state title.
“I think we have proved all the schedule pundits wrong,” Doty said, noting the idea is disrespectful to many of the Tigers’ opponents. “If you’re good enough, you’re good enough. We played with a chip on our shoulder all year.”
That won’t change Friday against the team St. Mary’s played in both of its previous state championship appearances, a win in 1976 and a loss in 1980. Even though the Tigers are rated higher than No. 6 Southern Lab, Doty and sophomore quarterback Aaron Howell insist they’re still the underdogs.
Certainly, no one would dare question the Kittens’ schedule. They beat District 7-3A champs Bogalusa 35-0 and their three losses came against 1A No. 1 seed Kentwood, Division II No. 1 seed University Lab and unbeaten IMG Academy from Florida, one of the top-10 teams in the country.
“They’re big and athletic and fast,” Doty said. “All the adjectives that you can think of that describe them. Definitely totally different than anybody we’ve played this year.”
A defensive line led by two-time District 2-1A Defensive MVP Josh Lucky must find a way to slow down Southern Lab’s powerful rushing attack and force the Kittens to throw out of their spread offense. St. Mary’s brings in plenty of weapons of its own, including senior running back Josh Hickman and Howell, who acknowledged feeling plenty of pressure late in the game last Friday.
“Whenever the game was tied (at 28 late in the third quarter) we just had to pull through,” Howell said. “We all knew we wanted to go play in the Superdome.”
He responded by leading three scoring drives and throwing two touchdown passes in the final 14 minutes with some huge help from a pair of senior receivers. Howell said Ryan Cunningham made a game-changing one-handed catch in the fourth quarter, and Donovan Ohnoutka made some big plays.
They’re part of an accomplished senior class Howell said provides significant motivation for younger players like himself. The Tigers have made the quarterfinals each of the last three years, and they’re eager to add the most impressive mark yet to their resume.
“We’re trying to balance work and enjoyment,” Doty said. “We want everybody to enjoy this experience and understand this is not something that happens all the time. We’re playing with house money.”