Many ‘looking in a mirror’ as they prepare for state title game vs. Union Parish

That’s what Many coach Jess Curtis says when he pops in the film of No. 3 seed Union Parish, the No. 1 seed Tigers’ opponent Saturday in the Non-Select Division III state championship matchup slated for 3:30 p.m. at the Caesars Superdome. 

“We are a lot of alike,” Jess Curtis said. “It’s two tough, physical programs. It reminds me of the Spider-Man meme where the two Spidermen are pointing at each other.” 

Powerful rushing attacks that grind their opponents into submission? Check. 

Smothering defenses that suffocate opponents? Yep. 

Two head coaches with a commanding presence, inspiring both a healthy dose of respect and perhaps a little fear? With Curtis and Union Parish’s Joe Spatafora – yes indeed. 

Two shut-it-down towns that throw their full weight behind their programs? Absolutely. 

More than that, these are two programs used to making appearances in the state championship game, but for the first time in recent history, they are in the same playoff bracket as the LHSAA condensed from nine to eight championships. 

Many’s 12-member senior class knows no other way to end a season that on a state championship stage as the Tigers will play in their fourth straight title game. 

The Tigers are 1-2 in those state title games, falling to Amite in 2021, beating Kinder in 2020 and losing to Ferriday in 2019. 

With the 2020 title game hosted in the outdoor venue of Northwestern State’s Turpin Stadium, this senior class is still looking for a state championship trophy in New Orleans. 

“We’ve been in this game for the last three years, so we are used to all the hoopla,” Curtis said. “Adding the (Isidore Newman) game also had that same feel to get ready for a big-game atmosphere like this one.” 

Union Parish is no stranger to the big stage either. 

The Farmers are making their third straight title game appearance after suffering heartbreak in 2021, falling to Sterlington in the final minute after getting drubbed by Madison Prep in 2019. Union Parish avenged that loss twice this season, beating the Panthers in the regular season and in the second round of the playoffs. 

Those title game appearances were on the Class 3A level, and now smaller 3A members like Union Parish are doing battle with the rank and file of Class 2A after the reorganization. 

Union Parish prevented a 2021 Class 2A rematch as the Farmers dispatched No. 7 Amite, 28-8, in the semifinals. 

The Farmers could have also seen a regular Class 3A foe in St. James, who knocked off Union Parish in the 2019 semifinals and ended up winning that title. But Many took care of the Wildcats 32-13 in this year’s semifinals. 

While Saturday won’t be a championship rematch, it will be a rematch of sorts. 

The two tough-nosed programs tussled in the 2021 season opener, a 42-32 Farmers win in Many in which Union Parish scored late to widen the lead past a one-score margin. Spatafora was later suspended three games that season resulting from a verbal altercation with a Many assistant coach. 

Many of the same faces will put on helmets Saturday, including Union Parish running back Trey Holly. 

Holly broke Louisiana’s all-time rushing record early this season and has more than 10,000 rushing yards for his career. 

“Trey Holly is as good as advertised, and he leads his team and is a fantastic football player,” Curtis said about the LSU commit. “We have a lot of respect for him. We have to run fit well and play assignment football. That’s been the reason this defense is so good – they take pride getting prepared each week.” 

Many isn’t void of elite talent either – USC commit linebacker Tackett Curtis (nephew of Jess) and defensive back Tylen Singleton, who has offers from across the nation including seven SEC schools. 

And the Tigers have a history of shutting down top prospects. 

Many quieted No. 1 nationally ranked quarterback Arch Manning in a 25-17 win against Isidore Newman before holding LSU receiver commit Khai Prean to one score and the St. James offense to 13 points. 

The Tigers counter with a varied rushing attack that features four different rushers – bellcow Jeremiah James, Trent Williams, Jamarlyn Garner and quarterback Tackett Curtis – who have at least 100-yard rushing performance this season. 

Many has improved its passing game with Curtis this season, and the Tigers can use it to prevent teams from solely stacking the box. 

But ask coach Jess Curtis about one improvement for this year’s team, and he’ll say special teams with no hesitation. 

Many kicker/punter Deacon Lafollette is reliable, the Tigers blocked a punt and a kick just this past week against St. James, and Many can tout three return touchdowns this season on top of improved field position in general. 

“Our special teams have been good this year,” Curtis said. “Our coverage unit and Lafollette has been great. If it comes down to a field goal, we feel comfortable putting it in Lafollette’s hands.” 

When a program goes to the state championship game as much as Many, traditions begin to form. 

Jess Curtis’ favorite is the team’s last supper in which the seniors speak, a planned meal because Many has known when its last game will be – the state championship. 

“It’s our best tradition,” Curtis said. “It’s the last time this current team eats together, and it ends with seniors addressing the team. There’s usually not a dry eye in the house.” 

No matter the outcome Saturday, there won’t be a dry eye in the Dome either. 

Many is angling for those to be tears of joy. 

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