It took nearly three decades and more than 300 games, but Jennings head football coach Rusty Phelps will get to coach in a state championship game.
Jennings (9-5), the No. 23 seed, will play No. 1 St. James (15-0) at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 3A final at the Superdome in New Orleans.
"I am happy for our school, players, coaches and everybody that has played here," Phelps said. "I am happy for our community.
"The last few years we have been close in the semifinals and finally got that taken care of. This is why you do it. I am just proud of this football team. Everyone starts off the year wanting to achieve this goal. We are just very fortunate and blessed to live out the dream."
Phelps has spent 25 of his 28 years as a head coach at Jennings.
"I am happy right where my feet are at," Phelps said. "I don't look for greener pastures.
"I have had other opportunities. If you love to coach high school football, this is one of the places to be at because it is a one-school town that has a lot of tradition. The community is very supportive. The kids still love to play football here. It has been great. I have had great players and great coaches. We just try to coach them, get them to play hard and get them lined up right and let them do the rest. I think that it has been successful over the years."
Phelps has won 173 games at Jennings and is 198-129 overall. The Bulldogs have missed the playoffs twice under Phelps with five district championships, 13 seasons with eight or more wins, 10 quarterfinal appearances and three semifinal games.
Former Jennings offensive lineman Shawn Demeritt, who was one of Phelps' assistant coaches from 1998 to 2004, said what makes Phelps great involves more than wins and losses.
"Rusty has been a pillar at that school and community for 20-plus years," Demeritt said. "He has helped a lot of young men behind the scenes.
"Everyone looks at the results on Friday night, but they don't see him taking care of kids during the week. Maybe the kid didn't have a meal, and you help them out."
Jefferson Davis Parish School Board curriculum supervisor Ben Ousalet said two things have contributed to Phelps' longevity and success. Ousalet not only played for Phelps but coached alongside him and was the principal at Jennings from 2011 to 2016.
"No. 1, he has always had a good report with school administration," Ousalet said. "That goes a long way.
"No. 2 is I think coach Phelps has done an awesome job of making players his No. 1 priority and treating them the right way. It is not just about football. It is about a well-rounded kid. I think those things attributed to him staying a long time. I have heard him say many times that he is not from here, but Jennings is now his home.
"For coach Phelps to have gone to the quarterfinals so many times, then to go the semifinals and finally win one is awesome."
Phelps, a native of Winnfield, got his coaching start in Belzoni, Mississippi. He got his first head coaching gig at Newellton High School, now Tensas High School, in 1989. After two seasons at McNeese State, Phelps joined the staff at Jennings as an assistant in 1994.