Ascension Episcopal Finishes Fantastic Season As State Runner-Up
Only nine playoff teams get to finish their season with a win. Everyone else's final chapter ends up having a bittersweet feeling. The Ascension Episcopal Blue Gators broke records this season, but they came up one win short of the ultimate finale.
Southern Lab's sheer size and athleticism were too much for the Blue Gators to overcome in the state championship. The Kittens came up with a 36-9 win to defend their state title, and Ascension Episcopal ended up as the state runner up.
Head Coach Matt Desormeaux had a lot of respect for Southern Lab, and even after an emotional loss, he complimented their entire team.
"There's not another team in our division like those guys," Desormeaux said. His quarterback, Jake Vascocu, echoed his sentiment, "I haven't seen anything like that; they're physically impressive."
The Kittens hit on several big plays on offense, and Tyrion Davis was the main culprit. He racked up 244 yards and three touchdowns on only eight carries, and his fellow back Charvis Thorton housed an 80-yard run to start the second half. Quincy Fillmore only completed two of his nine passes, but he scored once using his legs as the Kittens did all their damage on the ground.
Ascension Episcopal's defense actually forced three turnovers, picking off a pass and recovering two Southern Lab fumbles. After the game, Coach Desormeaux wished they could have done more with those opportunities.
"I knew we needed a couple things to go our way, and I feel like we had a chance to win this game if we could have capitalized on a few things," Desormeaux said. "I feel like, maybe me as the offensive coordinator, I didn't put our guys in the best position when we got close."
It didn't help that Jake Vascocu got hit, and hit hard, from the get-go. The bumps and bruises started to pile up, and even though he almost passed for 200 yards (19-38, 194 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT), you could tell his shoulder was bothering him.
Vascocu was a warrior. He took serious shots from Southern Lab's massive defenders, but he pushed through the pain and played all game, never missing an offensive snap. He downplayed the effect of the damage done by the Kittens, but it clearly hampered his accuracy.
"It affected me a little bit. Adrenaline kept it down some so I could still make some throws, but I didn't always make the right read," Vascocu said. "That wasn't as big of a factor as it looked."
Zach Ronquillo hauled in the only Gator touchdown in the fourth quarter and led the team with 85 receiving yards, as it was evident Southern Lab wanted to take Ronald Leblanc out of the game.
Leblanc was blanketed in double-coverage all game long, and he was only able to collect three of his targets for catches. Southern Lab harrassed him and devoted extra safety coverage over the top, and Leblanc sounded disappointed with how his senior season ended.
"I will just continue to work hard for it. I'm very sad that it's going to end now. My last high school football game...hopefully I can go to play college," Leblanc said, holding back emotions.
At 6'5" and 205 lbs, Leblanc's playing days are probably far from over. College recruiters won't be able to resist the obvious potential at his size.
When it comes to size though, Southern Lab was simply massive. Their defense held an explosive Blue Gators offense to only 213 total yards, and they only allowed 19 yards on the ground. They swarmed every time Ascension Episcopal tried to run the ball, and they suffocated almost every attempt. A goalline stand at the end of the first half put the momentum completely in their favor, and they never let go.
The Kittens came up with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss on defense, which overshadowed the Blue Gators. Ascension Episcopal's defense actually hung tight on the majority of plays, collecting seven tackles for loss, but the Kittens bit them with the big play several times.
It was an incredibly uphill battle from the start, and Coach Desormeaux was just proud of the way his team fought.
"Going into this game, we were a huge underdog, and our guys played their tails off," Desormeaux said. "They fought for 48 minutes and never gave up."
The emotions and exhaustion hit several players at the end of the game, bringing them to tears. Senior linebacker Andre Roth was in the middle of it all, trying to cheer his teammates up.
Roth stood in front of his team, holding the state runner-up trophy, and reminded his brothers that they should be proud of themselves. They were the first team in Ascension Episcopal history to even make it to the Dome. Roth battled through injuries this year to get to this point, and he reminded everyone after the game just how far the program advanced in such a short amount of time.
"I played when I was in 8th Grade on a 1-9 team, and to see the school come from there to where it is is insane," Roth pointed out.
Coach Desormeaux put things in perspective too. They did everything they could to win a state championship, it just wasn't in the cards.
"It was a phenomenal season, and what we did this season was a tribute to these guys right here," Desormeaux said, gesturing to his players. "My first year when I got here, we went 5-5 and we beat some teams that weren't very good. We got lucky to go 5-5, but these guys, they did everything the right way. They put in the extra hours and made this season happen. It's the players. They did everything the right way and they earned this."
Even though the season ended in a loss, the entire Ascension Episcopal community won in 2016. They registered an undefeated regular season, an outright district title and the fans filled the Superdome, for the first time, with love for their team. The ending of the story wasn't the final chapter everyone in Gator Nation imagined, but it's the pages in the middle the players will remember after the pain of the final chapter starts to fade.