Dream season revisited

December 16, 2014
Juniors Galore: Tarpons finding success without any seniors
December 16, 2014
December 16, 2014
Juniors Galore: Tarpons finding success without any seniors
December 16, 2014

South Terrebonne head football coach Richard Curlin has been doing this coaching thing for quite a while now – 30 years to be exact.

Because of that experience, Curlin knows exactly how much it stings to lose a tough, hard-fought playoff game like the Gators lost two Friday nights ago against Plaquemine to end the team’s season in the Class 4A State Quarterfinals. As a coach that’s enjoyed a prolonged amount of success, he’s lost more than 10-plus playoff games in his head coaching career.

“They are always tough,” Curlin said. “The cruel thing about our game is 99 percent of the time, you walk off the field for the last time unhappy – no matter how good you are or how far you go.”

But he also knows that there comes a time when the disappointment fades and gives way to a warm feeling of accomplishment and pride – the mark of a team that had a truly great season.

That pride has been on full display throughout this past week in Bourg, as the Gators spent time looking back on the 2014 football year – a triumphant one filled with 11 victories, just two defeats and countless memory-making opportunities that players and coaches will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives.

“We had a very special season. That’s exactly what I told all of the guys as soon as we got to talk to them after the game,” Curlin said. “Only one team in Louisiana gets to be the champion. This year, we weren’t that one team, but we have had a very special, memorable ride. We’ll remember this bunch for a while. They did a lot of great things, and they were a lot of fun to spend time with and be around.”

For the Gators, this journey was several years in the making. Several of the team’s seniors have been starting for three seasons.

In the 2012 football season, South Terrebonne was brutally young with several sophomores starting throughout the team’s depth chart.

Up front, the Gators relied on youngsters like Randall Norman, Pete LeBeouf and Gage Ross. At the skill positions, Cristian Wallis got a ton of reps in the backfield.

South Terrebonne showed flashes in that season, but its youth was too much to overcome. The team finished with just a 3-6 record. Defensively they allowed 30 or more points in six of their nine games.

“You never want to have any sophomore in the starting lineup, unless the kid is an amazing talent,” Curlin said. “And that year, we had several. We took our lumps. There’s no doubt about that – we took our lumps.”

But the team’s struggles in 2012 were a big factor in the team’s 2014 success. The sophomore class matured as juniors, posting a 5-5 record in 2013 – all five losses by 10 points or less.

“We were close. We just never could break through. We should have been 8-2 or 9-1,” LeBeouf said before this season. “It was frustrating, but we hadn’t learned how to win yet. This year, we’ll know how. This year is the year.”

Like the powerful lineman said, the 2014 season was the year where South Terrebonne was ripe for success. Once the youngsters being bullied around in 2012, they were now the seasoned veterans ready to do the bullying as seniors.

Offensively, the Gators were an absolute force – one of the best run-based offenses in Louisiana. Led by Wallis and a powerful, dominant offensive line, the Gators scored more than 20 points in all 13 of their games, scoring 481 total points on the season. They averaged a ridiculous 37 points per game and closed the regular season with five-straight games of hanging 40-plus points on opponents.

Wallis was the guy who generated a ton of the headlines, rushing for well more than 1,000 yards for a second-straight season.

But Curlin said the team’s blockers were the unsung heroes of the season.

“They are the ones who make it all work,” Curlin said.

If teams were able to find rare success bottling the run, senior quarterback Tyeson Verdin was able to make plays with his arm, most often hitting sophomore receiver Tay Martin.

“We were very balanced this year,” Curlin said. “We had a lot of different ways to hurt you. The line did a fabulous job all year. I think if you look at us, the story of our season has to be how well we played on the offensive and defensive lines and how well we controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”

Defensively, South Terrebonne was stingy, limiting opponents fewer than 20 points in seven games. Norman, LeBeouf and Ross were huge contributors to that success up front, as were secondary hands like Brett Franks, Devin Harding and Martin.

The offense generated the attention, but Curlin said the defense was the reason for the 9-1 regular season.

In 2013, the Gators lost several shootouts. In 2014, those games became South Terrebonne wins.

“We knew we’d be better on that side of the ball, and we ended up exceeding our own expectations in some ways – we had a very good group,” Curlin said. “They did a nice job getting the ball back to our offense so that we could build on leads and control our opponents.”

Against Plaquemine, both sides of the football flexed their muscles for a half, and it looked like the Gators were going to cruise to the Semifinals. But a combination of special teams errors, turnovers and the Green Devils being incredibly talented contributed to the Gators’ second-half struggles, which ended South Terrebonne’s season – three wins short of the title.

“They are a heck of a football team,” Curlin said. “We had opportunities, but they had a lot to do with the problems we were having.

“You never want to make it this far and have to go out. But no matter if you go one-deep, two-deep, three-deep or four-deep, unless you win it all, it’s not an easy thing to deal with. It’ll be hard to let go of this senior group, because we know what they’ve meant to our program. But we have a lot of guys who’ll be staying who can help us stay on the right track.”

So close to 14 days removed from their playoff exit, Curlin said the focus is already on the future. Sure, the Gators were senior-laden. But the team did again have sophomores glittered across its depth chart – guys like Martin, nose tackle Louis Blanchard and linebacker Kaleb Voisin – among others.

They are players that should blossom to be pretty good as seniors.

If anyone would know, it would be the Gators. They’ve seen that progression play out before. For them, it equaled a magical run through the 2014 State Playoffs.

“We think we have a talented group coming back,” Curlin said. “All you can do is dust yourself off, get back to work and try again next year. That’s what we’ll do.”

South Terrebonne football coach Richard Curlin talks to his team during a game this season. The Gators had a magical ride In the 2014 season, winning 11 games and advancing to the Class 4A State Quarterfinals. The Gators will lose a lot of seniors from this past year’s ride, but the team will still be ripe with talent next fall. That has South Terrebonne fans hopeful that another playoff run could be possible In the future.