Ascension Episcopal Searching For First State Title Against Southern Lab
Perfection is elusive. Many people chase it but few ever wrap their hands around it and reel it in for a warm embrace. Ascension Episcopal is close, but perfection is still one game away.
The Blue Gators are on a historic run in 2016. For the first time in program history, they collected an outright district title and finished the regular season undefeated. With three impressive wins in the postseason, they earned their first trip to the Superdome. This is uncharted territory for the Blue Gators, but they're so close to the treasure chest every team searches for. A win would guarantee them another first, their first state championship.
If they want to take the throne in Division IV, they have to knock off the defending rulers of the realm, Southern Lab.
Southern Lab is a juggernaut. Last year, they won the state championship in dominant fashion, defeating St. Mary by the score of 36-2. This year, the story is no different. They're coming off a 56-0 shutout of Cedar Creek in the semifinals, and their roster is loaded to the teeth with Division-I talent.
Their leader on defense is senior linebacker Christopher Allen, who recently committed to play for the Alabama Crimson Tide. He's a tackling machine (82 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6 sacks), an Under Armour All-American, and at 6'4"-234lbs he's a physical presence to be reckoned with. Cameron Williams and Damone Clark fill out the linebacking group, and they combined for seven interceptions in 2016. The Kittens' LB's will be all over the field making plays; there's no avoiding them.
On offense, Southern Lab pounds the ball on the ground behind a massive offensive line. Running backs Tyrion Davis and Charvis Thorton combined for 1,705 yards and 22 total touchdowns, and their quarterback Quincy Fillmore chipped in 671 yards and 12 scores on the ground too. Don't think Fillmore is just a running QB either. He tossed 34 TD's through the air and racked up over 2,000 yards passing on top of the damage he did with his legs.
Clearly, the Kittens have the advantage when it comes to size and pure athleticism, with around eight or nine players with interest from big time college programs. Ascension Episcopal's coaches made one point clear at practice though: the Blue Gators are the #1 seed, not the other way around.
The Blue Gators are going to attack the championship game like they did all throughout their 13-0 season so far. They will play their game, trust their coaches and try not to make any mistakes for Southern Lab to capitalize on. Ascension Episcopal only committed 12 turnovers all year long, and Jake Vascocu proved he can make the right decision under pressure.
Vascocu is a fighter and a true leader. Last year, he played safety and receiver, but in his first year at QB he passed for 2,309 yards and 28 TD's, with only four interceptions. He completed 65.9 percent of his passes, proving he could sling it with the best of them. His addition to the running game (710 yards, 12 TD's) will come in handy against Southern Lab. If the Kittens bring pressure, he can take the heat.
When it comes to weapons, the Blue Gators have a couple pieces with potential to create big plays at any turn.
Ronald Leblanc has the size (6'5"-205 lbs) to compete with Southern Lab, and he led a dangerous receiving group with 833 yards and 12 TD's in 2016. He's an incredible high jumper as well, so he can go up and grab the ball against the best DB's in the country. Then you have Zach Ronquillo and Seth Kerstetter wreaking havoc underneath. The speedsters combined for 1,757 total offensive yards and 22 TD's, along with four kick returns for touchdowns. When you add in Leo Franques' 1,293 yards and 21 TD's on the ground, you start to understand why the Blue Gators averaged over 40 points per game.
It's going to take a total team effort from Ascension Episcopal to topple Southern Lab, but that's not an unreasonable expectation. Head Coach Matt Desormeaux has the Gators playing complete football, to the man, and they bought into the team-first philosophy whole-heartedly.
The biggest part for Ascension Episcopal will be their mental approach. Going up against a scary team like Southern Lab, dealing with the massive stage and environment of the Superdome, feeding off their emotions but not letting them consume them, all of those things roll into a major mental test. They've never been in a situation like this before, but as they proved all year long, there's a first time for everything.
When you consider that Ascension Episcopal has only been playing football for a few years, it's incredibly impressive to see how quickly they grew into a championship contender. Only 18 teams in the state will even reach the Superdome, so this year's squad is already special.
Listen along with all the action on ESPN 1420, starting with pregame, bright and early, at 9:45 AM. Bobby Neveaux and Eric Mouton will be on the call, so you don't have to miss a single snap if you can't make the trip to New Orleans.