( photo credit: St. Landry Parish School Board)
BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting Writer
The incredible and improbable 2023 Opelousas High football season celebrated its finest hour Friday afternoon, as the Tigers left the Ceasar’s Superdome playing field clutching a state championship trophy.
Not many programs capture state titles after entering the playoffs ranked number 12 and winning three postseason road games against higher-seeds. Opelousas discarded each of those obstacles with a 26-13 win over No. 2 Cecilia in the Division II non-select title contest.
It was also the first football championship for a school that played 12 of 15 games on the road this season, while also eliminating the number one, two, four and five-seeded playoff opponents.
Opelousas High football coach Jimmy Zachery, Jr., who returned as head coach at the school where he played in high school during the 1990’s, said the final-round victory for the Tigers (12-3) was a victory not only for his program, but for the town where he grew up.
“This is awesome for our community. To be the first team that was able to bring a championship home (for Opelousas High) means everything,” Zachery said during his postgame comments.
Zachery also complimented his players for believing in the system he implemented four years ago after he was hired and for meeting the expectations of winning a championship that was discussed long before the opening kickoff.
“To have those expectations and then get to the Dome and have that accomplished is something that few teams experience. We wanted to be champions, but we want our players to be able to do that as champions on the field and off the field as well,” Zachery added.
Opelousas also played for football titles in 1938 and 1956, but lost both of those games to Minden.
The Tigers became the fifth team in parish history to win a football title.
Opelousas Catholic (1974), Belmont Academy (1975), Eunice High (1982 and 2018) and Port Barre (2002) have also won state football championships.
Opelousas quarterback Zach Malveaux was named the championship game Most Valuable Offensive player, while defensive lineman Johnathon Ford was voted the Defensive MVP.
Malveaux ran for 114 of the Tigers’ 291 rushing yards, while scoring touchdowns on keepers of 33 and 66 yards. Malveaux also completed four-of-seven passes.
Tigers’ wide receiver Kory Fontenot had three receptions for 78 yards.
Ford finished with seven tackles and a sack.
Junior Opelousas running back De’Shaun Ford gained 146 yards on 26 carries and also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Cecilia’s Brent Gordon, Jr., finished with a game-high 16 individual tackles.
How The Game Unfolded
Cecilia (12-2) defeated Opelousas 25-22 on Oct. 20 in a game that decided the District 5-4A championship.
In their three playoff wins, Cecilia scored a cumulative 163 points.
On Friday the Bulldogs were limited to 221 yards total offense. Cecilia quarterback Diesel Solari gained 37 rushing yards on 18 carries. Solari completed 12 of 22 passing attempts for 136.
Zachery said the objective defensively was to keep Cecilia from establishing any offensive dominance.
“For the most part I thought our guys in the box played well. We didn’t want to let (Cecilia) get going,” said Zachery.
Kyran Moore and Kylen Young each had nine tackles for the Tigers.
The Opelousas offense also managed to keep possession for 28 minutes and 35 seconds.
Opelousas never trailed.
The Tigers scored on a 58-yard drive on the first possession on a 33-yard Malveaux touchdown run.
The Tigers extended the lead to 12-0 with 40 seconds before the intermission, as Malveaux raced for his second TD.
Cecilia ended a 51-yard drive during the mid-third period as Solari threw a 64-yard pass to Ellis Stewart. The Johnathan Boudreaux point after kick cut the lead to 12-7.
Two of the Fontenot pass receptions highlighted a 71-yard Opelousas drive that answered the first Bulldogs’ touchdown.
Ford however completed the drive with a 1-yard touchdown as 3:34 remained in the period.
Cecilia cut the Tigers’ 18-7 fourth quarter lead to five points as the Bulldogs marched 86 yards on eight plays when Solari scored on a six-yard run with 5:02left in the game, but he failed to convert a two-point attempt.
The Tigers responded on the next series with a 74-yard touchdown possession that sealed the win..
This scoring drive was engineered primarily by Ford, as the 220-pound junior ran for all but four yards and scored on a 14-yard run with 1:13 remaining in the game.