It’s the fourteenth game of the season, played on the fourteenth day of December that has the Parkway High School football team preparing for a battle that will go down in Bossier Parish history.
The #2 seed Panthers will face the #1 seed Wreckin’ Rams of Acadiana this Saturday night for the 5A State Championship at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Parkway is hoping to turn their 13-0 record into a perfect 14-0 season, a feat that has all of Panther Nation excited and ready to hit the “Road to the Dome.”
For the team’s 35 graduating seniors, this will be their last chance for a Parkway victory. The senior Panthers have certainly come a long way over the years, beginning with a no win season in seventh grade and finishing with an undefeated dream season in 2013.
“This season has defined Parkway,” quarterback and senior Brandon Harris said. “It’s great to be a Panther.”
Their senior season, however, was almost cut short in last week’s game against Covington. The Panthers came face to face with reality – they were down 20-7 and were looking at the last 24 minutes of their high school football careers.
It was a tough situation, but Panther Nation fans never lost hope. Parkway seniors Andrea Holley, Eli Irizarry, Tracey Stephens and Madeline Wheelahan knew what they had to do – keep cheering until the very end.
“We’ve seen the impossible happen from this team,” Irizarry said. “We knew the game wasn’t over. We knew what this team could do.”
And the team knew it too.
“We knew what we had to do and used that to fuel the fire,” linebacker and senior Austin Averitt said. “I knew I probably won’t ever put football pads on again so if I could make a game changing play, it would start a chain reaction and build the hype.”
The Panthers took a one point lead in the second half, stepping up on both offense and defense. The chain reaction was in full swing.
Faced with a fourth-and-2 defensive hold with just over two minutes, Averitt tackled CJ Sims from Covington for a 4-yard loss. Harris then ran the ball for a first down on fourth-and-1 a minute later, sealing a 28-27 victory for the Panthers.
Averitt had many game changing plays, including a blocked field goal and two interceptions against Covington. However, he won’t take full credit for the win.
“Our team is a brotherhood,” Averitt said. “When defense is down, offense has our back.”
That same thought goes for the fans.
“You can tell everyone wants it,” Holley said. “We got this far and it’s amazing. We proved everyone wrong that said we couldn’t do it without playing home games.”
The Panthers have pawed and clawed their way through the playoffs despite a penalty handed down by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA), which stemmed from an incident in September 2012 where the head coach of a visiting team was escorted from Parkway’s field in handcuffs.
The LHSAA may have punished Parkway by taking away the team’s ability to host a home playoff game, but the spirit of Panther Nation only grew stronger.
“There are so many people in this city who have made the five and a half hour drive or longer to watch our boys play,” Stephens said. “This season has brought the whole community together and made our school an even bigger family.”
Along with breaking school history, the state championship game will be another first for the seniors. Saturday will be their first time stepping foot in the Superdome, a far bigger venue than the panther’s home stadium in Bossier City.
Irizarry will take his usual position at the bottom of the bleachers, leading the Parkway student section through chants, cheers and raising a whole lot of noise while the Panthers are on defense. No matter the outcome, the heart and soul of Panther nation will show its true form once again.
“This will be a season that is never forgotten,” Irizarry said. “We know they are going to be big and strong, but we are Parkway. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”
The hype and excitement from last week’s game against Covington has created a unique vibe at Parkway. Wheelahan said it has been difficult to think about anything other than football, especially when all they want to do is hit the ‘Road to the Dome’ for the last time.
Saturday’s game, however, will be a bittersweet reminder for the senior class of 2014.
“We’re all ready for the game, but this will be our last. We don’t want it to end,” she said.
Averitt said there really are no words to define the 2013 football season.
“This has been an amazing ride,” he said. “I always wanted to be a panther and I never thought I’d reach this dream. It’s something that you would see in a movie.”
Whether they have saved their best performance for last or dominate the field from the very beginning, it’s clear that the Parkway Panthers won’t give up the state title without a fight.
“History has yet to be made because we have much more to give,” Averitt said.
Parkway (13-0), the No. 2 seed, will play for the state championship title, a first in the school’s history, against No. 1 Acadiana (13-1) Saturday night at 8 in the Superdome. Tickets are $13 for general admission of $16 for reserved seats. For ticket information, contact Parkway High School at 759-2200.
A pep rally will be held Thursday, Dec. 12, at 1:50 p.m. in the Varsity Gym at Parkway High School. A send-off will follow at 3 p.m. as the Panthers leave on their last venture down the Road to the Dome for the LHSAA state title. The community is invited to attend the pep rally and also to line Colleen Drive for the Panther send-off.