- Feature Story
- Ron Brocato
- October 16, 2013 - 4:27pm
The third decade of the Catholic League was one of the finest periods in its history.
The “Battle of Gentilly” between St. Augustine and Brother Martin, which began in earnest when Bob Conlin’s Martin Crusaders defeated Otis Washington’s Purple Knights twice in 1971, was at its most competitive time. And this time, Washington would have the last word against his Brother Martin counterpart.
Before he left London Ave. for what he thought would be the beginning of a great college coaching career following the 1979 season, Washington established himself as league’s premier coach of the time.
Loaded with Division I talent, his Purple Knights won three state championships. His 1975 team set a record that has yet to be equaled by any of the Knights’ Catholic League peers. They went 15-0, annexing the Class 4A title via a demonstrative 35-13 victory over Covington at Hammond’s Strawberry Stadium.
St. Augustine also won Class 4A state championships in 1978 and 1979, by defeating Jesuit, 13-7, in ’78 and New Iberia, 16-7, in Washington’s final game on the purple sideline. The Knights handed Jesuit a 28-7 setback during district play, and when they met again for the state championship, it was decided the two would square off in the Louisiana Superdome.
LHSAA Commissioner Tommy Henry watched as a reported crowd of 44,000 filed into the giant arena. In speaking with the Dome’s Director of Public Relations, Bill Curl, the commissioner was so impressed, he encouraged the association’s executive committee sign a long-term contract to play all championship football games in the building. The Mercedes Benz Superdome has hosted the State Farm Prep Classic ever since.
When Washington departed, he ended his prep coaching career with a 106-30-1 record and left a void at the school which the administrations had tried to fill for the next 33 years. During that period, the administration changed head coaches seven times. Former center Tony Biagas was the most successful of the group with a 131-57 record between 1986-2002. He left as the school’s winningest coach, but failed to duplicate Washington’s feat of leading the Purple Knights to a state championship.
The Catholic League had several outstanding head coaches during that period, including Billy Murphy at Jesuit, Joe Zimmerman at Shaw and De La Salle, Bobby Nuss at Chalmette, Henry Rando at Holy Cross, and Don Perret, who put Rummel on the face of the Catholic League championship map before handing the job to assistant Easton Roth in 1980.
But the greatest mentor of them all, who has been named to three halls of fame posthumously, was Conlin. Between 1970 and his departure in 1996, a year before he died, Conlin coached Brother Martin to 202 victories, six district titles and had just two losing seasons during his 27-year tenure.
The player of the decade belonged to Shaw. The son of a policeman, John Fourcade became a starting quarterback as a 14-year-old freshman. By the time he was a senior in 1977, Shaw had established itself as the league’s team of the future under Coach Zimmerman and later Hank Tierney.
During Fourcade’s final three years, the Eagles posted a 28-8 record and won the district championship in his junior and senior seasons. The led the city passers in ’77 and was among the league’s top rushers. Shaw breezed past its first two playoff opponents, beating Westbank neighbors West Jefferson, 35-7, and O. Perry Walker, 27-7, before losing at South Lafourche, 27-23.
The game matched Fourcade against the Tarpons’ Bobby Hebert. The two would play together briefly as New Orleans Saints quarterbacks. Fourcade had the better statistics, but Hebert’s team won the semifinal round game at home, then edged Bonnabel, 21-20 to win the 4A title the next week.
That period witnessed the demise of once powerful De La Salle, which experienced seven losing seasons under four head coaches. It also said goodbye to the legendary Holy Cross coach, John Kalbacher, who retired in 1975 with a 132-54-7 record. The school has had 10 head coaches since, culminating in its present head man, Barry Wilson.
Between 1971 and 1980, Perret coached Rummel into prep prominence. After eight consecutive winning seasons and a record of 100-32-3, Perret ended his coaching career after finishing sixth in the 1979 league standings despite a 6-4 record. The Raiders captured league titles under him in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
The son of his successor, Easton Roth, is the Rummel coach today and ranks second in all-time league coaching victories with 176.
Team of the Decade (1975-84)
Tight end – Marcus Quinn, St. Augustine
Split end – James Toney, Shaw
Tackles – Louis Oubre, St. Augustine; Raoul Rodriguez, Jesuit
Guards – Byron Honore, St. Augustine; John Ripoll, Jesuit
Center – Steve Mott, Shaw
Quarterback – John Fourcade, Shaw
Running backs – Gil Fenerty, Jesuit; Jeff Jones, Rummel; Burnell Quinn, St. Augustine
Placekicker – James Wagner, St. Augustine
Linemen – Percy Gibson, St. Augustine; Bruce Davis, Jesuit; John Hazard, Jesuit; Ron Sancho, Shaw
Linebackers – Daryl Burckel, Rummel; Olin Kropog, Rummel; Angelo Provenzano, Shaw
Defensive backs – Troy Ancar, St. Augustine; Darryl Songy, St. Augustine; Robbie DeLord, Brother Martin; Tony Bouie, Holy Cross