It is a huge game on so many fronts.
When John Curtis (3-0) battles Brother Martin (2-1) in the Catholic League opener for both teams Friday night at 7 p.m., so much is at stake.
The game will bring a national spotlight to Louisiana football as the game will be televised on ESPNU.
The Patriots and Crusaders are considered two of the favorites, if not the two favorites to win District 9-5A.
The game will mark the debut of high school football at Zephyr Field, the first of eight Catholic League games to be played at The Shrine on Airline this season.
The two teams have met twice in the last two years. In the 2014 Division I semifinals, the Patriots took down the Crusaders 40-20. Last year, Curtis played in the historic Catholic League for the first time and the Crusaders won a 40-37 overtime thriller at Tad Gormley Stadium.
Junior Marquese Albert is the leading rusher for Curtis with 35 carries for 220 yards and four toudhdowns. He has also returned a kickoff for a score. Junior Darryan Washington has 17 rushed for 129 yards and a score but is battling an injury. Junior Malik Wells is also injured, hampering the Curtis running game.
Freshman Collin Guggenheim has emerged as the top quarterback in a competition with senior Blaine Hebert, who may also play. Guggenheim has completed 9-of-12 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and has rushed 20 times for 68 yards and two scores. Hebert is 4-of-6 passing for 132 yards and a touchdown and has rushed 17 times for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Tyrone Legette, son of the former New Orleans Saints cornerback, is the leading receiver with five catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Junior tight end Glenn Beal is a big target and has three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, senior defensive back Garret Wallow leads the way with 19 tackles. Wallow recently committed to TCU. Senior defensive back Tyler Blanco has 16 stops, junior linebacker Johnny Curtis has 15 tackles while linebacker Andre Seymour and junior Daniel Guillie each have 14 stops. Junior Brandon Davis leads the Patriots with a pair of interceptions.
The Crusaders are led by senior running back Bruce Jordan-Swilling. The Georgia Tech commit has rushed 79 times for 535 yards and 11 touchdowns. Junior quarterback J.P. Pierce, who experienced painful leg cramps in last week’s 55-46 loss to Karr, has completed 31-of-59 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Jeremy Singleton, a Houston commit, also battled cramps and a knee problem. He has seven catches for 79 yards while Pattre’en Hughes has five receptions for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Errick Lassair has seven catches for 200 yards and a touchdown.
The Crusaders have scored 121 points in three games but head coach Mark Bonis is still not happy with the unit.
“We are okay offensively,” Bonis said. “Call me crazy. We put up a lot of points last year and we have scored this year. The goal is to score more points than the opponent. We left points out there against Karr. J.P. can play better and he will. Bruce has been good, what everyone expects. Jeremy has been banged up. We can improve up front. Statistics don’t always tell the story.”
Defensively, junior linebacker Jabari Watts leads in tackles with 25, including a sack, while Georgia Tech commit Tre Swilling has a pair of interceptions. Junior free safety Matthew Alfonso has 15 tackles and an interception and senior linebacker Patrick Willis has 21 tackles.
“It’s week four and it is a big game because it is a district game,” Bonis said. “We have to focus internally and block out all of the attention and the noise. We had to look at what we did last week that we can correct and get better this week and learn from our mistakes. We have had a better week of practice. There is a sense of purpose and urgency. It’s a league game.”
In last year’s epic overtime battle, senior quarterback Jake Broggi settled the issue with a 10-yard touchdown run in the extra period. Broggi completed 12-of-21 passes for 361 yards and two touchdowns, overcoming a pair of interceptions.
Jordan-Swilling was a workhorse, with 39 rushes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Singleton caught touchdown passes of 80 and 68 yards from Broggi as Brother Martin amassed 555 yards against the vaunted Curtis defense. The 40 points Brother Martin scored were the most against a Curtis defense since 1971.
“Perhaps we have some confidence from having beaten them last year,” Bonis said. “They are very good. We are not intimidated by the name or opponent but we have great respect for who they are and what they have accomplished. You have to execute to beat them. We have to continue to improve in the kicking game. We have given up two touchdowns in three games on kickoffs. We have to be better. Curtis has an exceptional kicking game.”
Albert had a 42-yard touchdown run for the Patriots, who got a pair of touchdown runs from Devon Benn and stayed close throughout with a superior kicking game.
J.T. Curtis has had several experiences with nationally televised games previously, though his players have not.
“It’s an exciting week for us,” Curtis said. “We’re excited to open up the field of play at Zephyr Field. The cooperation of the Zephyrs and their vision will make this a first-class experience for everyone. Swilling and Singleton are outstanding players offensively and they have a veteran defense that plays well up front. The quarterback is playing well. They are an explosive team.”
Curtis lamented the lack of health of some of his key players.
“Our team is a little banged up, to be honest with you,” Curtis said. “We’re banged up at running back. We’re hoping we’re going to get Washington back this week. He was not able to play last week in the game against Parkview Baptist. Wells will not be back. He had surgery on his hand and will miss another week or two. That’s part of the challenge of high school football.”
Curtis has been on national television previously while Brother Martin will get its first-ever national exposure.
“It will be an awfully good football game,” Curtis said. “Our conference (district) is traditionally strong with teams that can win on any Friday night. If you are not prepared, you can walk away from a loss. It will provide real excitement for all fans. We want to let the rest of the country know that high school football in Louisiana is as good as there is this Friday night. We feel blessed to be part of it.”