Football Preview: Experienced Catholic of New Iberia squad primed for bounce-back season under Wattigny

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Many who know the Catholic High of New Iberia program would consider last year’s season performance uncharacteristic for the Panthers, especially of late. Just three years removed from a state championship title, the program struggled during the 2020 campaign.

“Last year, my first year as head coach, proved challenging due to the pandemic and my family’s relocation,” Catholic head coach Scott Wattigny said. Wattigny is hoping that a full offseason will lead to great improvement on the field this fall. He replaced highly acclaimed Panthers head coach Brent Indest in January 2020, only to inherit the challenges of the pandemic less than two months later.

Last year, a hard-fought loss to Isidore Newman, 14-7, in the quarterfinals of the LHSAA Division III playoffs brought the Panthers’ year to a screeching halt. The result ended the careers of many impactful seniors for Catholic including defensive end Mason Boutte, defensive lineman Ross Molbert, offensive lineman Evan Nathan and tight end Stan Allen.

“Despite the loss of time last year, I thought we made substantial progress as a program, and I am looking forward to building upon what we started,” said Wattigny.

Many programs were affected by the pandemic and Catholic was no exception. The adversity for the Panthers returning for 2021 may pay huge dividends. Wattigny, who posted a 39-17 record in five seasons as head coach at Archbishop Hannan before heading to New Iberia, has a large senior class this year that he will turn to for help leading and inspiring this team throughout the season.

KK Reno should make an impact on both sides of the ball as a runner and a pass defender. The versatile 6-foot-1 210 pounder has three collegiate offers on the table for him already, including one from Louisiana Lafayette. Reno is coming off a very impressive season where he ran for 950 yards and found pay dirt 18 times.

Marco Austin (5’9”, 201) will join Reno in the backfield of Catholic’s potent Flexbone/Wing-T offensive scheme. Austin ran for 333 yards and scored four times last year. This was an offense that only attempted 67 passes in 2020, so the Panthers will lean on the legs of Austin and Reno to move the ball down the field.

Having three experienced offensive linemen returning will help the Panthers’ ground attack. Russell Lewis (6’2”, 272), Nick Aguillard (5’10, 240) and Marcus Jacobs (5’8”, 205) will be opening up lanes for Reno and Austin once again this year.

Reno leads a defensive backfield that is loaded with experience as fellow seniors Cambridge Hall (5’9”, 150), Josh Cooper (5’9”, 165), and Shea Lee (5’11”, 172) form a reliable group that held up well last year in the playoffs at Newman against highly touted quarterback Arch Manning and his outstanding receivers.

The signal callers on defense for the Panthers will be Ryan Faucheaux (5’10”, 175) and Noah Broussard (5’9”, 195), both returning as seniors. Russell Davis (6’2”, 215) is the top returner on the Panthers’ defensive line.

Wattigny will be looking to hand over a lot of responsibilities and his trust to this senior class to return the Panthers to a customary state title contending status. “We have 24 seniors, and we will lean heavily on them for their play and leadership.”

Catholic of New Iberia begins their 2021 season with a trip to Abbeville to face powerful Vermilion Catholic. The Eagles are coming off an undefeated run until falling in the state semifinals to eventual state champions Ouachita Christian.

The early non-district slate is a tough one for the Panthers. Week two will bring a home game against the Breaux Bridge Tigers, followed by an away test against St. Paul’s in Covington.

Week 4 marks the first of four district games for Catholic, facing the Delcambre Panthers. Catholic won decisively last year, 36-7. The following week brings a trip to Lafayette to face Ascension Episcopal. The Blue Gators took care of business in last year’s matchup, 28-14.

To start a run of three straight won contests, Catholic will next face Loreauville. Last year’s hard-nosed thriller of a game was won by the Tigers, 12-10. Next up is West St. Mary, who was embarrassed by the Panthers last year, 42-0.

The annual rivalry between the Notre Dame Pioneers and Catholic will be played this season in New Iberia. Both of these programs have made deep playoff runs in recent years, and their matchups always have state-playoff level intensity.

In Week 9, Catholic will travel to Jeanerette, looking for a repeat of last year’s 43-0 win.

Finally, to end their regular season the Panthers will return to their home turf to play the Franklin Hornets. Catholic battled past the Tigers for a 49-32 win in 2020.

Wattigny is excited about the team that he has returning this year, primed to lead the Panthers to more accustomed success.

“We lost a tremendous amount of time,” Wattigny said. “This year, time is on our side.”

After a chaotic and unorthodox year, the Catholic Panthers are looking forward to getting back to the normal routines, including their winning ways.

Click here for more CCS Prep Football team previews (including archives of past season preview).

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