This afternoon they are set to grace the Superdome turf for the first time in history in their first state championship appearance in 35 years.
The third-seeded Yellow Jackets (13-1) prepare to face the top-seeded team in Class 2A, the Many Tigers (13-1).
The road to the Superdome has been no easy task, but one that has prepared the Yellow Jackets for almost any situation. In the past 14 games they have learned what defeat tastes like, how to mount a comeback in a must-win game and the deep waters of double overtime, but none of those could prepare them to face the No. 1 team on the grandest stage of them all.
Kinder earned its first of 13 victories in that opening game against Elton.
The Yellow Jackets picked the right time to work the kinks out as they turned the ball over three times in the first half before using a strong surge in the second half to seal the victory 34-6.
The next week they took the field at John C. Buck Stadium in a nail-biter against Allen Parish rival Oberlin. With the score tied 14-all at the half, the officials were forced to call a halt to play for a lightning delay, forcing the teams to wait nearly 2 hours before retaking the field to finish what they had started.
In the second half, both teams looked to regain their footing, but it was a slow start after being complacent for so long. Kinder senior quarterback Austin Pickle broke the stalemate with a 1-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, followed by a 56-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jordan Vickers for a 28-20 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining. Kade Andrews iced the victory with 2 seconds remaining when he intercepted the Tigers’ final pass in the end zone.
The following week the ’Jackets met their other Allen Parish foe when they hosted the Oakdale Warriors.
In what was the wettest week of high school football in 2013, the ’Jackets overcame the slippery conditions to post a 20-7 win.
Kinder’s lone taste of defeat came in Week 4 when it played at Class 3A Westlake. The Rams keyed on the ’Jackets’ biggest offensive weapon, the running game, and held them to 71 yards.
Instead of pounding the ball on the ground, the ’Jackets leaned on Pickle, who threw for a season-high 176 yards and both touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Khalil Leblanc was on the receiving end of one of the scores and led the game with 110 yards receiving.
Despite leading 15-12 with less than a minute remaining, the ’Jackets couldn’t contain a speedy Westlake offense led by Keilynn Fradieu, who scored from a yard put with just over 30 seconds left to give the Rams an 18-15 win.
Kinder head coach Bret Fuselier didn’t let the loss bring his team down, though.
“There are no words to explain how hard my guys played tonight,” he said after the game. “We want Kinder to have that reputation of being a team that always comes out and fights as hard as we can.”
Pickle refused to let the ’Jackets enter a slump as he rebounded the next week in Iota, where he threw for 70 yards and rushed for 162 as was responsible for all five touchdowns in a 38-13 victory. He rushed for touchdowns on four of his six carries.
It was Week 6 that Kinder began to flex its muscle, kicking off District 4-2A play with a 35-0 drubbing of annual district title contender Lake Arthur.
Vickers rushed for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but it was the defense that was on display as it allowed the Tigers to cross the 50-yard line on two occasions, one of which came late in the fourth quarter.
The next week the ’Jackets saw a similar result, but against an even more dangerous opponent when they shutout eventual quarterfinalists Vinton 41-0. The upstart Lions, who boasted one of the biggest playmakers in Southwest Louisiana in Anfernee Dixon, had absolutely no answer for Pickle, Vickers or the Kinder defense.
In their next outing the ’Jackets continued to dominate the district by crushing DeQuincy on the road, 42-13.
In Week 9, however, they ran into their toughest test of the regular season against the Welsh Greyhounds in a game that would determine the district championship.
The Greyhounds brought the toughest defense that the ’Jackets had seen all season to John C. Buck Stadium, holding them to a 6-6 tie at the end of regulation. Kinder scored in the first overtime but was unsuccessful on the 2-point conversion. Luckily for the Yellow Jackets, junior linebacker D.C. Arceneaux more than made up for the failed conversion when he blocked the Greyhounds’ PAT minutes later.
In the second OT, Welsh scored first but was denied the 2-point conversion. Pickle responded with his third rushing touchdown before Trenton Kirklin sealed the victory with the game’s only successful PAT.
The ’Jackets closed out their district title campaign with a 51-7 win over Mamou.
In the first two round of the state playoffs, the ’Jackets cruised to a 41-0 win over Istrouma and a 35-6 win over Homer.
They returned home in the quarterfinals to face the upset-minded St. James Lions. In their first tight-knit affair in nearly a month since beating Welsh, the ’Jackets were forced to rely heavily on their defense in the 21-13 win. The game was capped off by Leblanc who brought down an interception with 17 seconds remaining.
The biggest win came a week ago, after fans witnessed the most important drive in Yellow Jackets history.
With 4:04 left in the game, Kinder took a 21-20 lead, but LaRoderick Evans returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, putting Kinder in a 27-21 hole with 3:51 remaining.
No Kinder fan will likely forget the next 11 plays, especially Pickle’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Kade Andrews with 19 seconds left.
That one pass, which defined an entire season, will live on forever, but it might take a backseat if a state championship trophy is brought back to Kinder tonight.