Many coaches can single out a turning point during a championship season. That pivotal game happened just over a year before University High won the LHSAA’s Division II football title last fall.
“I saw it when we lost to St. Thomas More the year before in the semifinals,” University coach Chad Mahaffey said. “Part of it was the way they competed. It had been a difficult year for us in terms of injuries that made it hard to find continuity. We didn’t win, but you could just see them coming together a team. The potential was there.”
The Cubs were already a traditional power in the LHSAA’s Class 3A/Division II. In 2017, they totally tapped into the potential of a talented young roster on the road to becoming The Advocate’s Boys Team of the Year for 2017-18.
It is not unusual to have a high school football team run the table, compiling an undefeated record. What U-High did while finishing 13-0 simply transcends what the record indicates.
The Cubs played what Mahaffey considered to be the school’s toughest schedule and dominated from the first kickoff through the final seconds of a 45-19 victory over De La Salle in the Division II title game.
How dominant were they? So impressive that few remember now that U-High was the No. 2 seed behind the Cavaliers. The Cubs outscored playoff opponents 114-42 in three games.
“The thing that impressed me the most was the consistency,” Mahaffey said. “I think we were closer as a team. But they came in every day with the same attitude and the same willingness to work. As a coach, you don’t always see that.”
De La Salle was not the only team of titans the Cubs gang-tackled. First, the Cubs downed eventual Division I champion Catholic High 34-6. A 26-7 win over Class 5A champ Zachary and a 63-35 victory over West Feliciana, a District 6-3A rival and the eventual Class 3A titlist.
“Obviously, I felt like we had a chance to be good,” Mahaffey said. “But after the first couple of games I wasn’t sure exactly where we were even though we won and played well. The game with Catholic made me believe we were really onto something.”
Under the circumstances, it is easy to understand why University High appeared in the top 20 of one early preseason poll already released for 2018.
“Everything goes back to the consistency,” Mahaffey said. “They (U-High team) worked to be better every day.”
WEST FELICIANA FOOTBALL
The Saints made history by compiling a 14-1 record while winning the school’s first LHSAA title in football. It was vindication for a WFHS team that lost to the eventual Class 3A champion in the semifinals the previous three years. The sixth-seeded Saints won 11 straight games to end the season, including a victory over Richwood in the 3A title game. “These guys were so focused and determined,” WFHS coach Robb Odom said.
The Wildcats provided a “shock the world” moment when they defeated Landry-Walker in overtime to win their Class 5A title. Walker (33-4) beat many of the state’s top teams. It was the first title-game appearance for the Wildcats since 1962. “When we lost in the regional round the year before, I think they saw what they could do,” Walker coach Anthony Schiro said. “They realized all the potential we knew they had.”
Follow Robin Fambrough on Twitter, @FambroughAdv.