BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting Writer
Road trips have become a weekly occurrence for the Opelousas High football team in 2023, but the journey the Tigers are taking to New Orleans this week obviously presents a considerable difference in importance.
Opelousas has the opportunity on Friday to accomplish what no other school program team has done — winning a state football championship – when the Tigers kick off at noon against Cecilia in a Division II non-select title contest inside the Ceasar’s Superdome.
The Tigers have played only three of their 14 games at home this year, as Opelousas head football coach Jimmy Zachery, Jr. estimates his players have already covered over 1,800 miles to play at stadiums other than Donald Gardner Stadium.
Despite that distraction, Opelousas (11-3) and seeded No. 12, has a chance to capture a state championship trophy by defeating second-seeded Cecilia (13-1).
The Superdome lights however can often be distracting and intimidating for teams unaccustomed to large venues, Zachery says.
However Zachery also thinks the Tigers’ experiences on 11 playing fields from St. Martin to Natchitoches parishes this year have conditioned his players to operate effectively amid hostile territories.
“We’ve gone all over the state to play and think all the places we have played have helped. I think that making it to the Dome though, is going to make the guys a little nervous. I’ve been there and I know what it’s like, but you still want to make sure that we help the players keep their nerves down,” says Zachery.
Zachery plans to mitigate the potential Dome distraction by leaving two days early and holding practice sessions in the New Orleans metro area at Edna Karr High.
“We want to practice at Edna Karr on Wednesday and Thursday and acclimate the team by holding some team activities for them and taking them places,” says Zachery.
The two teams are District 5-1A opponents and Cecilia finished the league undefeated. Among the district wins by Cecilia was a 25-22 victory over Opelousas on Oct. 21.
It’s been since 1995 that Cecilia has played for a state title.
Cecilia, Zachery admits, possesses the ability to score quickly and often.
“I think the biggest thing for us is not turning the ball over and keeping their offense in check. We mainly need to contain (quarterback Diesel Solari). The offense runs through him,” Zachery says.
Solari, a junior, is dual threat, running for 1,551 yards and 32 touchdowns. Solari has thrown for 1,357 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Cecilia running back Corey Broussard has gained 1,215 rushing yards and scored 23 TD’s, while receiver Ellis Stewart has 21 receptions for 303 yards. Brent Gordon has 21 catches and four receiving touchdowns.
Opelousas running back De’Shaun Ford has over 2,000 rushing yards. Tigers quarterback Zach Malveaux has thrown for over 1,600 yards.
Zachery thinks his team has improved, especially defensively since the loss to Cecilia.
“We think playing (Cecilia) a second time gives us an advantage. We know we should have won that game, but we made too many mistakes,” Zachery notes.
The chance to bring a state football championship to the school where he played high school varsity football presents a special opportunity, says Zachery.
“It really means a lot for a guy like me who came back (to Opelousas High) in order to win and bring the team to a championship game and win it,” Zachery mentions..