It may not be the spectacle it was in 1940 when the two New Orleans Prep League powerhouses played in the City Park horseshoe before a record crowd of 34,345, but the game is nevertheless a Louisiana classic.
ESPN U lists the 55-year-old clash between Ruston and West Monroe as the state’s oldest rivalry. Not even close!
Begun in 1922 when a prominent local prep football official named Leon Ernst accepted the first head coaching at Holy Cross for a stipend of $150, this series has lasted through the ages. This rivalry, which has been played every year without interruption, has given birth so some of the great coaches in this city’s history and several players who went on to become Sugar Bowl and Louisiana Sports Hall of Famers.
The two schools have met on the field of battle 89 times with Jesuit holding a 50-37-2 edge in the series. On two occasions they played each other twice in the same season, once, in 1963, for the state Class 2A championship. Even in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath badly damaged both schools’ campuses, their coaches found a way to recall enough players from their areas of relocation to stage a football game to keep the series of consecutive games intact.
But is it?
Consider this: In 1937 the Louisiana High School Athletic Association introduced a new rule to eliminate tie games by breaking a tie, first by awarding the victory to the team with more first downs, then, if both teams have the identical number, the second option awards a win to the team that advanced the ball into the opponent’s 20-yard line more times.
Simple enough you say. Well, leave it to this rivalry to test the edict’s intention.
Both schools were chief contenders for the Prep League title when they met in mid-September at Loyola’s stadium. A crowd of 9,000 spectators braved a constant, nagging rainfall to witness the two battle on near even terms to a 6-6 deadlock. Referee Abe Mickal, a former LSU running back and future OBGYN, had to tally the final stats. His fellow officials agreed that each school had five first downs. Mickal then awarded the win to Jesuit on penetrations, 4-1.
The issue was hardly settled. Holy Cross requested a meeting with Jesuit officials and the LHSAA to discuss the outcome. Holy Cross coach Chuck Jaskwhich claimed his team had six first downs to Jesuit’s five and should have been given the victory.
LHSAA President J.M. Boyette heard the argument that Mickal miscounted and read the evidence both schools submitted to his office. Among the evidence was a telegram from Mickal that stated he and his officials did not keep a written account of first downs and penetrations, but a consensus opinion by the officials awarded the game to Jesuit. Because of this revelation, Holy Cross contended that there was no written proof of the first down and penetration counts and Mickal’s ruling was arbitrary and wrong.
Ten days later, the LHSAA agreed and ruled that the game “no contest” and struck the result from the records. The game neither counted for or against either school. As far as the LHSAA was concerned, it had never taken place.
To this day, however, Jesuit lists the result as a victory and Holy Cross regards it as a tie. So, the question lingers; was the series string broken in 1937?
Friday’s Great American Rivalry Series Game will be filled with pomp and tradition. Each school’s band will march into the stadium from separate sides. “We want to make this a spectacle like an Army-Navy game,” noted Holy Cross Athletic Director Greg Battistella.
The U.S. Marine Corps will hold a chin-up competition between students of both schools for bragging rights and the game sponsor will honor a former great player from each school.
Jesuit chose Mickey Lanasa, the All-State back who led the Blue Jays to the 1953 Class 2A championship and a 47-13 win over the Tigers. Holy Cross selected running back Earl Schneider, the city’s first 1,000-yard rusher and star of the 1954 team that went 9-2, including a 21-19 triumph over the Jays. Both were the Class 2A state sprint (100 and 200-yard) champions in their senior seasons.
Although the two are have not been district rivals since 2004, the game still holds significance as the premier Catholic League rivalry and will continue to do so in the future as Holy Cross’ enrollment rises at its new Gentilly location.
Speaking of the Catholic League, all five schools successfully opened their 2009 seasons with victoriesA 6 by a combined score of 181-25. Impressive.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch four of the five play. Brother Martin was on the road last weekend.
Most impressive was St. Augustine’s 29-7 win over preseason No. 10 West Jefferson on Saturday. Coach Doug Johnson lifted the veil of the Purple Knights. Their lines are huge, they can move the ball by either means and for the first time in years, they can kick for points. And they will NOT finish fifth as predicted.
Archbishops Shaw and Rummel combined steady offenses with solid defenses in successful season-openers.
Preseason pick Shaw moved the ball well on the ground in a 21-6 win over Higgins on Friday. Coach Scott Bairnsfather’s team hardly passed the ball. It didn’t hav e to. Surprisingly, Higgins did not attempt a pass, exposing a glaring weakness in its offense.
Meanwhile, Rummel used the forward pass to balance its attack in a 26-0 win over H.L. Bourgeois on Saturday. Deviating from the Raiders’ traditional ground attack, quarterback Luke Cartozzo completed 12-of-16 passes for 123 yards and two scores. In the past, Coach Jay Roth’s teams hardly threw that many times in three games.
Jesuit’s 56-6 “win” over Douglass was hardly indicative of the Blue Jays’ strengths or impending weaknesses. The Bobcats did not punt, even deep in their own territory, giving Jesuit gift-wrapped touchdowns. The game was such a mismatch; the second half was played with running time.
I felt badly for this once proud Ninth Ward traditional school. Since Katrina, it has dropped in classification to Class 2A. What’s worse is that Douglass has been placed in a district with 23-time 2A champion John Curtis for the nest two years. Unfair.
So, how good are the Jays?
We’ll know a little more on Friday. The defense is one of the lightest I’ve seen in years, and a schedule that includes Karr, West Jefferson and, oh yes, their Catholic League counterparts, will test Coach Wayde Keiser’s bunch nearly every week.