In past seasons, talk about a trip to New Orleans and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome began early in the season on Broadacres Road.
Heck, there have been seasons where the Evangel faithful could begin planning a trip south about the time school bells rang for the first time. The team was that seasoned and that good. Everyone knew even the West Monroes of the world could do little to stop the Eagle effort.
Such was not the case heading into this season, however. Coach Byron Dawson’s club was moving up two classes with a young cast of characters who were largely unproven.
“Normally, in past years, we would talk about the Dome, but we have played one-game seasons,” Dawson said. “Our focus has just been the next opponent. That’s how we’ve approached everything.”
Evangel has been to the Dome 16 times, winning 13 titles. But thanks to John Curtis, looming in the other Division I semifinal contest, the Eagles have been eliminated before reaching the title game each of the past two seasons. The last time Evangel played in the Dome was during the 2013 season when Curtis defeated the Eagles 35-13 for the 2A state title.
Only one team stands in the way of the Eagles and their 17th trip to the Dome. But Catholic-Baton Rouge (8-3) is a formidable opponent, which scratched out a 49-48 win last week over highly regarded Brother Martin. That contest featured more than 1,000 yards of offense between the two clubs.
“We have a great challenge coming to town on Friday night,” Dawson said. “We will have to play sound football and be disciplined in our assignments to win. Catholic is very tricky on offense and their coach (Dale Weiner) has been around a long time doing a great job.”
The Eagles (9-2) pounded Holy Cross 42-7 in their quarterfinal contest with senior tailback Jamarqueza Mims scoring on runs of 10 and 25 yards in rolling up 60 yards. And Evangel got a tremendous effort from its defense in holding the visitors to their only single-digit scoring effort of the season.
Youngsters Patrick Jones and Bobby Bell turned in pick-6s from 35 and 32 yards out, respectively.
“We had some big plays on defense and those two guys really stood out,” Dawson said.
Dawson said the Bears have a pair of talented tailbacks and a quarterback who can take it to the house at any moment. Ian Brian passed for 271 yards and three scores while adding 115 rushing yards last week against a Brother Martin defense coached by former Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings head coach Jon Norris.
The Eagles, who have just four senior starters, were better prepared for the rigors of Division I (basically Class 5A) playoff football by playing up in District 1-5A this season. Last year they weren’t properly tested in District 1-3A heading into the playoff quarterfinals where they lost 13-7 to John Curtis.
“We’re still 2A numbers in our school. I think Catholic has like 1,200 boys. We have about 300 students total,” Dawson said.
So, staying healthy has been a priority throughout the season.
“Not having the numbers, the depth of schools like Catholic and Byrd and Parkway has been a great challenge for us,” Dawson said. “Our kids have done a good job overcoming that, and I’m proud of them.”