As the No. 23 Jennings prepares to play in the Class 3A state championship game on Friday, the memories of another talented group of Bulldogs come to mind.
27 years ago, Jennings went 14-1 and beat Cecilia 14-7 to win the 1992 Class 3A state championship.
The Bulldogs were led by a trio of all-state players that season in Class 3A offensive MVP running back Lawrence Nixon, who had back-to-back 2,000 yard rushing seasons, offensive lineman Shawn Demeritt and 6-4, 325-pound, defensive tackle Chester Richard.
"Time flies," Demeritt said. "I can't believe it has already been 27 years.
"Our junior year, we were in the quarters, and we lost to Amite 13-0. We had the bulk of everybody coming back. We had been playing ball together since junior high. Everybody got along well. I thought that was the key. The players were all good friends."
Richard led a defense that forced 54 turnovers (25 fumbles, 29 interceptions). Other stalwarts on the defensive side included a sophomore linebacker by the name of Ronnie McZeal, who also played fullback and went on to star at McNeese State University, and free safety/wide receiver Reggie Allen, who picked off Cecilia's Brian Soignier in the end zone on the final play of the state championship game.
Jennings had five interceptions in the state championship game, one by Allen and two each from Nixon and cornerback Curtis Berry. Steven Bertrand had two sacks and McZeal added one with two minutes left in the game.
"It had to start with Chester Richard," UL-Monroe head coach Matt Viator said. "He was 300-plus and was the nose guard inside.
"You have to start with him, and Ronnie McZeal was a really good linebacker. We also had a really good free safety in Reggie Allen. The middle of our defense was really good. I thought we were really good at those positions, and we had a lot of other players that played really hard."
Not only were the Bulldogs loaded player-wise, but also on the sideline. At 27 years old, Viator was in his second season as the Bulldogs head coach. His is staff included at least four future head coaches in Chuck Gorman (Welsh, LaGrange), Jamie Lafleur (Patterson) and Vaughn Eggleston (Sam Houston, Hamilton Christian).
"I know he (Viator) was a young coach at the time, but it was obvious that he was a great coach and a great man," McZeal said. "He is still coaching and still doing good things.
"I remember him coming in and we made it to the (quarterfinals) my freshman year. Then to turn it around that quickly in his second year at the school and win a championship was pretty amazing."
There were two defining moments in the Bulldogs' march to the finals that season. The first was Jennings' only loss when the then No. 3-ranked Bulldogs lost to St. Thomas More on the road 21-18 in Week 2. The Cougars scored the go-ahead touchdown with help from a Jennings fumble. The loss led to some changes and a 13-game win streak.
"That put everything back into perspective," Demeritt said. "I don't know if we would have kept going on and winning if we hadn't (lost to STM).
"Sometimes you have to get level headed and put back in your place. It helped us to refocus. Give Coach Viator a lot of credit. He made a lot of changes after that game."
The other big game was the Bulldogs' 19-14 win in the quarterfinals over Springhill that set the tone for their first state championship since 1939. Down 14-13 with 58 seconds left and no timeouts, Jennings started from its 15-yard line. After a short pass and an incompletion to stop the clock, quarterback Mike Trahan, who went on to be an all-conference infielder for the McNeese baseball team, threw a quick pass to Allen, who lateraled the ball to Nixon. Nixon finished off the play with a 77-yard scramble to the end zone for the winning score.
"That (Springhill game) was kind of the most important step," Viator said. "Springhill had a great tradition and going to Springhill, which was a long ways from Jennings. It was in the high 20s, but we found a way to win. It was a close game."