St. Paul’s coach Sears renews acquaintances with Holy Cross in good playoff matchup

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Ken Sears, St. Paul's
(Photo: Bill Arthurs)

A pair of solid football teams each with a potentially fatal flaw square off in the opening round of the Division I state playoffs.

Seventh-seeded St. Paul’s (6-4) hosts No. 10 seed Holy Cross (5-5) Friday at 7 p.m. at Hunter Stadium in a game you can watch live at CrescentCitySports.com.

While both teams have been good, even very good at times, the Wolves and Tigers have struggled with one key aspect of the game respectively.

For St. Paul’s, battling injuries has been tough but a large number of turnovers has hurt most in its four losses.

For Holy Cross, it has been a battle to be consistent, being good to very good one week and not so good the next.

The subplot to the intriguing matchup involves St. Paul’s head coach Kenny Sears.

In his 19th year as head coach and 28th overall at St. Paul’s, Sears has deep ties to this week’s opponent.

Sears played defense and graduated from Holy Cross in 1985. He was at the old campus when Henry Rando and L.J. Giambelucca were his head coaches.

It has been more than a decade since St. Paul’s has faced Holy Cross. On Sept. 8, 2006, the Wolves beat the Tigers 36-20 at Hunter Stadium.

“I remember playing against them but I don’t remember much in the way of details about the game,” Sears said. “It’s a great place where I had a lot of great memories as a student and in football. Those memories will last a lifetime.”

While Holy Cross was once home, Sears has been “home” for a long time now.

“Holy Cross will always have special meaning for me but St. Paul’s has been my home now for years,” Sears said. “The focus is for us to play well against a good team. They are very good defensively, as good as we’ve faced. They have been in every game. Some of what we do is a mirror image to what they do. It will be a good football game.”

Sears was faced with a very tough decision, sitting returning starter and junior quarterback Johntae McDowell in favor of junior Jack Mashburn, who moved to quarterback from wide receiver. Mashburn had played quarterback earlier in the season when McDowell was injured. Mashburn guided St. Paul’s to a 42-28 win at Fontainebleau to close the regular season.

“Jack is a tremendous athlete who has played very well at receiver,” Sears said. “We just needed a change-up. He managed the game very well against Fontainebleau. That is what we need. He did a great job with his reads. He’s a good runner as well. Johntae can run very well, also. Jack is more of a power-style runner.”

Mashburn came in and went 12-for-22 for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Bulldogs. Senior Corey Williamson has rushed 172 times for 886 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior Grant Grosch is the top receiver with 34 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns for the Wolves (6-4).

While Ponchatoula and Mandeville were down from where they have been in recent years, District 6-5A was still a formidable league and challenge for the Wolves.

“I think our schedule prepared us well,” Sears said. “I think our league was better this year. Covington had a phenomenal year. Slidell was very tough. Northshore was better. The early schedule was really tough and we feel that is how we have to schedule to give us a chance in the playoffs.”

Holy Cross (5-5) is a dangerous team that is better than its record. The Tigers are coming off of a tough 14-13 loss at Live Oak.

The Tigers have an outstanding running back in senior Landen Bates, who has rushed for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns. Can the Tigers sustain a passing game? Jaden Moran is just 77-of-168 for 887 yards with just six touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Kym Wimberly, a Harvard commit, has 32 catches for 389 yards and four touchdowns. Nolan Heitmeier is a good kicker despite missing one in a 14-13 loss to Live Oak a week ago. The Tigers have held six opponents to 17 points or less.

Tigers coach Eric Rebaudo knows his team will be in tough.

“St. Paul’s is a good, well coached team,” Rebaudo said. “They have been the staple of their league and they play well at home. If we come to play, it should be a very good game. We’ve seen both quarterbacks. They played Jesuit right before we played them. Mashburn is more of a physical presence and they have a very good running back and they have skill guys that can hurt you.”

At times, Holy Cross has looked the part of an outstanding team.

“We need to work on our consistency,” Rebaudo said. “I thought we played hard at Live Oak but we simply didn’t make plays when we had the opportunity. We left a lot of points on the field that should have been on the scoreboard. That was disappointing but I feel we can rebound and make plays. We gave up a few plays on defense as well. Again, it is about consistency.”

An illustration of how consistency matters is revealed in how the Tigers have lost four games by a total of 13 points, narrowly missing out at a big season and a high seed.

Like St. Paul’s, Holy Cross has been through challenges that has made the Tigers tougher.

“We feel the schedule we have played has us well prepared for the playoffs,” Rebaudo said. “Our league is second to none. Covington is very good. It’s been an up-and-down year. We need to learn from the past and play our best ball now. It’s the healthiest we’ve been in quite some time. I feel good about that. We have to be hungry and in the right frame of mind.”

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE 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 Sports Media Association, National Football…

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