Lakeshore, Karr with mutual respect heading into title matchup
One team is accustomed to the stage. The other will see the bright lights for the first time and try to adjust.
That will be a must for unbeaten Lakeshore when the second-seeded Titans battle top-seed and defending state champion Karr for the Class 4A state championship Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. You can listen to the game live on WGSO, 990 AM and at wgso.com.
Lakeshore (14-0) advanced with an impressive 33-0 whitewash of 11th-seed Rayne, avenging a playoff loss of a season ago.
The Cougars advanced with a hard-fought 20-12 win over fourth-seed and district rival Warren Easton in a difficult rematch game.
Karr (13-1) has been here and done that, making its seventh appearance in eight years in the state championship game and the third straight under third-year head coach Brice Brown.
The first-time experience has been eye opening for Lakeshore head coach Craig Jones.
“It is exciting to have to go to the meeting in Baton Rouge, see the inner working and learn what this is all about,” Jones said. “It’s very fun. The first time I got caught off guard was with the number of reporters that caught me on the field after we beat Rayne. It’s nice to get the recognition. These kids and coaches deserve it.”
While exciting, Jones knows the unknown will be an obstacle for his program to navigate.
“The challenge is going to be handling the atmosphere of the big building, the surroundings,” Jones said. “The one thing I feel very comfortable about with this team is they are very, very mature. If any group can handle the stuff we’re about to go through, it’s this team.”
Lakeshore has been a juggernaut offensively, averaging 43.6 points per game. It all starts with brilliant senior quarterback Chris Penton, who has completed 198-of-284 passes (70%) for 3,584 yards and 41 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He has 92 carries for 352 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Chris has been the guy that regardless of the situation, he has performed brilliantly,” Jones said. “He always has a calming influence on the guys. They all trust in him and believe in him. His play over the last year and a half has earned the respect of his teammates. He is a huge reason we are playing in this game.”
Penton has a pair of 1,000 yard receivers. Senior Jalen Willis has 56 receptions for 1,223 yards and 13 touchdowns while junior Jacob Bernard has 55 catches for 1,211 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Sophomore Maximus Lowery has 97 carries for 594 yards and eight touchdowns in the absence of injured Joshua Hayes.
While the offense has gotten its much deserved credit, Jones is pleased with the other side of the ball as well.
“Our defense has played great,” Jones said. “It’s kind of neat to see that we can defend multiple things. Tioga ran it about four times the whole game. Rayne may have thrown it four times the whole game. Of course, Karr does both well. It’s going to be a great challenge.”
Despite winning 14 games by an average margin of 32.2 points per game with its closest victory being by 17 points, Lakeshore is considered the underdog, which Jones understands.
“Their overall speed team and athleticism is by far the best we will have faced,” Jones said. “They are very well coached. From series to series, they are trying to attack something different. The coaches and kids are in tune with each other. They have the experience of doing this and handling the practices and distractions. It is the expectation of their program to be here. We are very impressed with what we see.”
Senior quarterback Skylar Perry leads the Karr offense with 115-of-202 completions for 1,959 yards and 23 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Perry has rushed 103 times for 678 yards and 11 scores. Juniors Ahmad Antoine and Ronnie Jackson are each approaching 1,000 yards rushing. Antoine has 131 carries for 992 yards and 12 touchdowns while Jackson has 148 rushes for 960 yards and 18 scores. Senior Anthony Spurlock is the top receiver with 33 catches for 851 yards and 10 touchdowns.
On an off night, Brown made a trip to watch Lakeshore play a few weeks ago, fully anticipating that he might see them down the road.
“They are a very impressive team,” Brown said. “They are disciplined, well coached. They execute extremely well. They throw the very as well as anyone we have seen. You don’t complete 70 percent of your passes unless you are really good. If you sell out on the pass, they can hurt you running the ball. They shutout Rayne last week. They have our respect.”
In 2013, Karr was in an eerily similar situation. The Cougars were the defending state champion, facing an unbeaten East Jefferson squad. Despite the Warriors record, the Cougars were considered the clear favorite by everyone. East Jefferson shocked Karr 38-28 to win the title. Brown was an assistant coach on the Karr staff of Nathaniel Jones.
“We have reminded our young men about that many, many times this week,” Brown said. “You cannot listen to what people think. You have to focus on being the best you can be and performing your best. If you don’t, you will get beat. You don’t get to the Dome unless you are very good. I don’t know if we gave East Jefferson enough respect then. We must give Lakeshore a ton of respect. I sense that we will and we will be ready to play.”
The Karr defense has held seven opponents to 12 points or less. It is a physical, fast unit.
“We know that our defense will always give us a chance to win,” Brown said. “Our defense kept us in it against Warren Easton until our offense could make some plays. We strive for balance on offense and have run it well but we must run it better than we did last week.”
With a host of players and coaches who have experienced championship week and playing in the Dome previously, Brown feels his team is prepared for the entire experience.
“You cannot underestimate the experience of having been there before,” Brown said. “You can talk to other coaches, pick their brains and try to prepare but until you experience it, you really aren’t sure how to deal with it. There will be jitters but I expect our kids to handle it well.”
Both coaches know what it would mean to win Saturday.
“Winning never gets old,” Brown said. “You always wonder if you will get another shot at it once you get there. If you would have told me we would go to the Dome three straight years when I took the job three years ago, I would have told you that you were crazy. You do not take it for granted. You simply have to take advantage of the opportunities.”
“It would be great to win it,” Jones said. “To see the community rally around our girls soccer team championship last year was phenomenal. The fundraising for their rings was fantastic. The front office has been bombarded with people buying tickets. It would mean so much. We talk to our kids about defining their legacy. It’s a great opportunity.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…