Jesuit-St. Augustine series renewal comes 35 years since state title matchup

Posted by: Bill Bumgarner in Prep Sports

JAYS, KNIGHTS PLAYED SPECIAL STATE TITLE GAME IN THE DOME 

Because of the quirky playoff format in the 10-team Select 5A classification, Jesuit and St. Augustine, who meet Thursday in the final game of the regular season, could meet again in the postseason.

It wouldn't be the first time.

This December will mark the 35th anniversary of an all-Catholic League matchup in the Superdome, a pairing between the Blue Jays and Purple Knights whose repercussions are still being felt today.

In '78, Jesuit and St. Aug each finished the regular season with 9-1 records. Jesuit lost to the Knights 28-7 in district play; St. Aug lost to Rummel 21-18.

St. Aug steam rolled its four playoff opponents, brushing aside East Jefferson 39-0, Landry 27-6, South Lafourche 28-0 and Lafayette 30-0. Jesuit rolled past West Jefferson 28-14, McDonogh 35, 35-13 but endured a scare from Carver 28-26 before eliminating Woodlawn-Shreveport 35-7.

Tad Gormley Stadium seemed the likely site for the state championship pairing but the grass surface at City Park has been worn to a frazzle from constant use for four months.

Former St. Aug coach Otis Washington and former Jesuit coach Billy Murphy met with Dome officials about a change of venue.

"At the meeting, the real question was 'why not?" recalls Washington, who now lives in Baton Rouge. "It was a no-brainer. The grass at City Park was gone."

The Dome had held previous playoff games indoors and that, coupled with the lure of the new stadium, enticed legions at fans to those games.

"It was a tremendous week," said Murphy who lives in Pensacola, Fla. "Otis and I got phone calls from all over the United States and we were on WWL radio. The buildup for that game was special. There was a lot of intensity.

"Our principal, Father Tompson, said he was expecting a crowd of about 30,000. Well, they opened the terrace and people just busted through (the turnstiles). I think there was more like 50,000 fans."

St. Aug quarterback Darren Dixon, who later coached at his alma mater, completed two scoring passes to Gregory Hobbs as St. Aug tuned back a late Jesuit drive and held on for a 13-7 victory. The title was the second of three championships within a five-year span for Washington.

"We had played Jesuit earlier and it's so hard to beat the same team again," said Washington. "I really thought we were going to face Carver, but we had played them already too."

The estimated turnout of some 44,000 fans resulted in an economic windfall for both programs.

"I think we split about $125,000," said Washington, a figure whose worth would easily be doubled by today's standards.

What was Washington's reward?

"Our principal Bill Johnson told me to take the staff to lunch on Monday at Ruth's Chris steak house."

The matchup proved to be a watershed event.

Also in attendance that night was Superdome public relations director Bill Curl, a mastermind in the field of marketing. Curl made a call to then Louisiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Tommy Henry with an idea.

"If we could play one state championship game in the Dome, why not all of them?" recalls Curl. "We were told that there had been previous attempts to hold all the championship games in (LSU's) Tiger Stadium and we were also told some principals did not like the idea of commercial sponsorships.

"Well, Tommy aggressively got into this idea and into its marketing."

Three years later, with the Lion's Club serving as a sponsor, John Ehret, St. Martinville, John Curtis and Port Sulphur each raised championship trophies aloft as all four title games were conducted on a marathon Saturday in the inaugural Superdome Classic (now the State Farm Prep Classic). The 33rd Prep Classic will stretch over three days from Dec. 12-14 when nine state champs are determined.

Murphy remained at Jesuit until 1984. Washington left St. Aug following the 1979 title game.

Who among the thousands of fans in attendance that night could have envisioned that neither St. Aug nor Jesuit would ever make a return trip to the finals during the next 33 years? The polls say St. Aug looks poised to end that drought with its No. 1 ranking and the nation's No. 1 player, running back Leonard Fournette.

In '78, St. Aug was led by safety Darrell Songy, an All-State MVP who signed with Oklahoma, and tight end Malcolm Scott who picked LSU.

Tim Parenton, who lives and coaches baseball in Florida, quarterbacked the Blue Jays in '78. He attended Mississippi State. Songy and Jesuit tackle Billy Chandler were the lone selections on the Class 4A All-State team that season.

Murphy recalls a recent meeting with former St. Aug player and co-coach Burton Burns, now an assistant at national champion Alabama. Their talk flitered back to the '70s and the high level of team and individual competition that could produce two state finalists in the same season, a rarity.

"Burton recalled that every game, every week in the Catholic League was like playing in the Southeastern Conference," Murphy noted.

Another all-Catholic League pairing is not beyond the realm of possibility. If so, prepare to open the terrace.