After 13 weeks with no losses on the schedule, Leesville ran into one of the top teams in the state in the Class 4A State Semifinals, and for the first time this year, the Wampus Cats came up short.
No. 2 Warren Easton defeated No. 6 Leesville 54-14 Friday night to knock the Wampus Cats out of the playoffs.
"Our kids played with such heart," Leesville head coach Robert Causey said. "Our community supports us like no other. It goes to show you that if you have a special football team it improves your school environment, it unites your community, it gets kids involved in the school and brings the community closer. Our stands were packed, and they supported us, no matter if we were down 40. The support was there, and that is what small-town football is about.
"I think our kids performed way above some of their abilities and way above people's expectations. I think they met theirs and our expectations for the effort they put in."
While the loss stings, Leesville had a historic season for the program, going 13-1 with a perfect 10-0 regular season for the first time in school history.
"I'm more happy for the kids, coaches and community," Causey said. "It's not about me and the goals I have, personally and professionally. It's just an honor to be where I am to coach these kids. It's a testament to the buy in and their commitment to put the work in. It's not easy to do what we did. To repeat it takes even more commitment."
Being able to see a state powerhouse like Warren Easton up close, Causey saw where he needs the program to improve to get to that level.
"They showed that we need to get our kids in the weight room and on the track," he said. "We weren't fast enough. We have to get more kids involved in the offseason, weight room and track."
The Wampus Cats lose over 20 seniors, who have helped turn the program around during Causey's three seasons as head coach – winning the district three times and keeping the Hooper Trophy in Leesville during that stretch.
"I had a lot of these kids as a principal, and to me, seeing these kids grow from seventh grade all the way through, they have been a big part of the change," Causey said. "They finished their freshman year when I got here, and I don't think words can describe what they mean to me. It's just a special group of kids, because they bought it. They serve one another. They made sure their teammates had rides to practice and worked with their teammates after practice if they needed anything. They made sure their teammates had rides home, watched film and asked questions. They congratulated their teammates coming off the field, and they consoled them when things weren't going great. All the things you want, this is what this class was."
Leesville took an early 7-0 lead over the Eagles after a long pass to Duwon Tolbert set up a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jacob Mount, and the Wampus Cats led 7-6 after the first quarter.
"It's just a tall task, but I thought our kids rose to the challenge all week in practice, and our attitude was good on the way down," Causey said. "I thought our kids competed against an unlimited number of Division I prospects."
From there, Warren Easton took control, outscoring Leesville 20-0 in the second quarter with a pair of passing touchdowns and a touchdown run by quarterback Lance Legendre.
"We knew we were up against a good football team," Causey said. "They were fast. You're either going to catch the speed or watch it. I thought we did a good job on both sides of ball of adjusting to their speed, but there is only so much you can do. You can't plug a hole in the dam with a team that has all of New Orleans to get kids from."
The Eagles added two more scores in the third and tacked on two more in the fourth, as Leesville only scored one more touchdown – a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Noah Allain.
"We took away the inside running game after the first touchdown, but we couldn't match their speed on the perimeter," Causey said. "If you adjusted outside, they beat you inside. If you put everyone inside the box, they beat you deep."
While the season may be over, the Wampus Cats will be back to work real soon.
"Monday, we clean up and turn in all of our equipment," Causey said. "Tuesday, I told the seniors that I want them to come in and talk to these kids. Talk to them about what it meant to play Wampus Cat football, whether you're a one-year or four-year senior. Tell people from the heart what it means. To me, that tells the juniors what they need to do to lead."