John Curtis rolls over Catholic-Baton Rouge to capture Division I state championship

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Photos by Beau Brune:

NEW ORLEANS – J.T. Curtis has been doing this coaching thing for a while. In 50 years on the sidelines at John Curtis Christian, he had won 26 state championships and 581 games before Saturday.

In the same Mercedes-Benz Superdome where so many great memories have been created over the years, Curtis managed to do something new.

The Patriots claimed title No. 27 by beating Catholic High, 49-7, for the LHSAA Division I championship. In doing so, John Curtis set a school record for most points scored in a championship game and avenged last season’s title game loss to Catholic.

Where last year’s game was a low-scoring affair dictated by field position and special teams, this game showcased some of the best talent that John Curtis has had in years.

The talent on their sideline gave the Patriots plenty of confidence.

“Coming in to this game we knew we had them athleticism-wise,” said Donald Clay, who had three tackles and a 40-yard interception return for a score.

Curtis’ defense was dominant in shutting down the Bears’ offensive attack. Catholic was only able to amass 231 yards on 58 plays. Gabe Fertitta’s offense averaged 40.6 points per game during the regular season.

“Anytime you can play that kind of defense and control the line of scrimmage the way we did against a team like Catholic who, as you know, has scored a lot of points all year long,” Curtis said. “You can’t be more pleased with that and the way they performed.”

“You have good days and you have bad days,” said Fertitta. “John Curtis certainly had a good one and we didn’t have a very good one. Put that combination together and that’s the result you get.”

Patriots quarterback Collin Guggenheim was named Curtis’ Outstanding Player for leading his offense to 446 total yards, including 437 on the ground.

Guggenheim finished with 160 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown. Most importantly, he provided the type of leadership that is essential to the success of a John Curtis offense.

“I could not be more pleased with the discipline of our offense,” Curtis added. “Because to be very honest with you, we call the play but our quarterback has the option to change based on what he sees at the line of scrimmage. I couldn’t be more pleased with how we executed the veer offense.”

It didn’t take long for Curtis to start rolling. On the opening possession the Patriots went 81 yards on 11 plays, facing just one third down on the drive. Ma’Khi Smith ran it in from 20 yards out to give Curtis a 7-0 lead.

After Dante Thomas intercepted a Cameron Dartez pass, the Patriots took over from the Catholic 14.

Two plays later Corey Wren scored from 10 yards out, giving Curtis a 14-0 lead after five minutes of play.

Catholic would finally get going on its next drive. After moving into Patriot territory, Dartez would throw a 32-yard strike to Gregory Martin to get the Bears down to the one. On the next play, Josh Parker went over the top for the score to bring Catholic back within seven.

Still in the first quarter, Curtis wouldn’t need much time to retaliate. On the first play after the kickoff, Wren took the option pitch and smoked the Catholic defense on his way to an 80-yard TD run.

By the time the clock hit zeros after the first 12 minutes, Curtis had all the points it needed.

After holding the Patriots scoreless in the second quarter, Catholic had one more chance to make it a game again after receiving the kickoff to start the second half.

Unfortunately for the Bears they went three and out. Once John Curtis got the ball back, the Patriots went on a backbreaking 17-play drive that covered 82 yards and wiped 7:42 off of the clock.

Choncee Crum’s 4-yard TD run made it 28-7, and Clay’s pick-six followed on the Bears’ next possession.

At 36-7 after three quarters, all that was left was to run out the clock. Instead, Curtis was able to tack on two more scores for the final margin.

Catholic couldn’t find the answers and they head back to Baton Rouge hoping to put a no good, very bad game behind them.

“I certainly can’t say I saw it coming,” Fertitta added. “We had a great two weeks of practice, and I thought we had a great game plan on offense and defense. I thought our coaches did a phenomenal job of getting our kids prepared. It just wasn’t our day.”

For the Curtis seniors, who avoided becoming the second straight class to graduate without a title to their names, it was a moment to savor – one full of the emotions that come with finally realizing the dream that had been deferred a year ago.

“Last year (Catholic) put me through so much hurt,” said linebacker Joshua Valentine. “We worked so hard to get to the state championship. But now that we’ve actually won it … I can’t even put it into words.”

No words need to be said. The Patriots did all of their talking on the field.

Dean of the Dome Notes (by Bill Bumgarner):

After half a century at John Curtis, coach J.T. Curtis has compiled an overall record of 582-64-6 since 1969, the second highest total in prep football history. The leader, John McKissick of Summerville, S.C., concluded his career in 2014 with a mark of 621-155-13 and seven state titles. McKissick, born in 1926, never missed a day of work in his 62 seasons. Curtis, 72, trails McKissick by 39 victories.

Competing in the smaller Division I bracket could prolong the wait as Curtis usually earns a bye and, as a result, plays three playoff games instead of the five games under the non-select format.

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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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