Brent Indest puts the blame for his team’s only loss on himself.
Catholic High enters today’s Division III state championship game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with an 11-1 record, the lone blemish being a 37-0 defeat to Notre Dame in Week 4.
“I wasn’t trusting enough in our defense,” Indest said. “My mindset was the only way we were going to win that game is if we score 35 points, which is a tall order against a team that rarely ever gives up two touchdowns. I have told the kids that my game plan was horrible in that first game. I was too impatient. We got away from what our identity was.”
Indest added, “Against a team like Notre Dame you’ve got to do what you do, you have to trust your special teams, play defense well and try to win the field position battle. You’ve got to keep it close. That first game I let it get away from us early. You can’t get that far behind against Notre Dame because that is a recipe for disaster.”
Thankfully for Indest and the Panthers they got another opportunity to right the wrong of that first matchup as Catholic High will face off against Notre Dame in the Superdome, as the traditional state power from Crowley will be playing in its ninth state championship game since 2000 and looking for its fourth state title in that same stretch.
“We need to come out and just be who we are and let the chips fall where they may,” Indest said.
The first game against Notre Dame turned out to be a turning point for Catholic High’s, in particular its defense.
The team may have won its first three games of the season but the opposition had scored an average of 25.3 points, including giving up 35 points in the season opener to Westgate. The Panthers were still trying to find their way on the defensive side of the ball as the team had to replace eight players on that side of the ball, including three linebackers and star defensive tackle Zion Hill, who signed with Louisiana-Lafayette.
“We had some struggles early,” Indest said. “In that first game we got into a shootout with Westgate and it shouldn’t have been that way. Ironically it was the Notre Dame game that was the turning point. We lost 37-0 but we lost 37-0 because our offense got us into trouble. We gave them a short field all night long, special teams was terrible and we just played into their hands. But it was that night that the light clicked on for a lot of our defensive players.”
In the eight games since that defeat, Catholic High has given up an average of 7.8 points per game, posted three shoutouts and held Isidore Newman to a mere 7 points in the semifinal round.
Catholic High’s defense must find a way to slow down Notre Dame’s rushing attack which is averaging 229 yards per game, and features four running backs with at least 388 yards rushing. Indest knows that his Panthers must slow down the Pios run game, but he also knows just how dangerous quarterback Garrett Bergeron and wide receiver Gentry Borill are. Bergeron has thrown for 1,402 yards with 12 TDs to only four interceptions, while Borill leads the team in receptions (37), yards (654) and touchdowns (5).
“Their strength is their run game but honestly the play of Gentry Borill, who is a 6-foot-4 guy who can run, he can hurt you,” Indest said. “The quarterback isn’t the most athletic guy in the world but he throws exactly where he wants to every single time. Those two guys get them out of bad situations all the time. Getting off the field on third down is paramount.”
Catholic High’s offense is just as formidable.
The Panthers are averaging 50.3 points per game and have become more balanced as the season has progressed, as evidenced by the passing yardage put up in the two playoff games. Senior quarterback Diallo Landry threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns against Calvary Baptist and followed that up by throwing for 378 yards and three touchdowns against Newman.
“I think we have progressively gotten better as the season has gone along,” Indest said. “We are definitely passing and catching the ball better right now. The biggest problem about playing Notre Dame is the way they are built on defense. They are built to defend teams like us.”
Indest added, “They really welcome playing Wing-T or Veer teams because it plays into their wheelhouse. What Notre Dame doesn’t want to see is what they saw in the semifinals against Riverside — a bunch of guys in space that are faster than they are. But again you can’t just go out there and change what you do because the other team is really good at defending what you do.”
Notre Dame, known for its vaunted defense, is giving up only 11.6 points per game this season but did give up 31 points against Riverside in the semifinals.
Indest says because of Notre Dame’s stout run defense that there will be some opportunities to take advantage of matchups down the field — but his team has to execute.
“We know we are going to get a lot of one-on-one matches but it will come down to whether or not we can take advantage of those matchups,” Indest said.