Cathedral caps big season for all area teams

Published 12:01 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

The “defense wins championships” phrase in football could be scripture.

The saying is undoubtedly the most overused in the sport, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

“That’s why we were here,” said Cathedral head coach Ron Rushing minutes after his team defeated St. Aloysius to become MHSAA Class 1A State Champions. “That was the key to all of this.”

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As important as Cathedral’s ability to stretch the field vertically, the defense’s capability to defend the perimeter horizontally was what created space in the title game. Think about it — St. Aloysius’ keys to victory were quarterback Connor Smith escaping the pocket and making plays outside of it (running or throwing) while allowing DeMichael Harris, a 2,000-yard rusher, creases to explode through. Cathedral didn’t present either as an option. As Smith rolled out of the pocket on variations of bootleg passes, either defensive ends Will Wallace or Quinton Logan tracked him down or James Coley came up to make the play at linebacker.

I’ve been telling anybody who would listen for a couple months now that Will Wallace is one of the best defensive ends in the area. As a sophomore, he lacked hype entering the season, as the explosive Quinton Logan somewhat stole the spotlight entering the season. Logan, as expected, had a remarkable season, but Wallace led the team in sacks, giving opponents nightmares about blocking Cathedral’s defensive ends.

And it wasn’t like running the football up the middle was a safe passage. Not when Robert Hargrave, Coley and Zach Flattmann were involved at least. This forced St. Aloysius to challenge Cathedral on the perimeter, and the Green Wave’s ability to run sideline-to-sideline led to multiple three-and-outs, which ultimately led to multiple scores.

Now, don’t get me wrong — offense was important too. This is Rushing’s Green Wave we’re talking about after all. The game plan was flawless. Rushing called the game of his life, smartly using motion plays to keep St. Aloysius guessing and spreading the ball to every key playmaker in open space.

As for the overall scope of things, I would argue the most important player offensively this season was quarterback Wyatt Boothe. The talent was around him to score offensively, and the blocking was top notch all season long, but this young man had to come in during the summer, learn Rushing’s offensive system and master the read option. I think his five total touchdowns in the state championship game give you some insight as to how well he did.

“He is extremely smart,” Rushing said. “It didn’t take him long at all (to learn the offense).”

Boothe could throw it enough to make defenses respect it — if they didn’t, he usually connected with Jardarius Anderson or R.J. Givens for a long touchdown pass — and when the defenses defended the pass, Boothe either kept it and muscled his way through the middle of the defense or handed the ball to bowling ball Christian Jenkins or to the sensational Dee Fleming.

And what else can be said about Fleming? In the state championship game against St. Aloysius, Fleming put on a show for the state of Mississippi. In Mississippi State’s press box, I could hear some reporters behind me after one of Fleming’s highlight-reel runs, amazed by his ability to stretch a play, finish with a stiff arm and accelerate time and time again.

“Wow, this Dee Fleming kid…”

They weren’t the only ones who noticed. Dan Mullen, who walked the sidelines during the game, had an impressed look on his face after Fleming made yet another great play. As you could imagine, Fleming was a hot commodity after the game, for both news reporters and broadcasters.

As Fleming stood there, grabbed by one reporter after the next, right after Rushing did a few interviews of his own, I felt a sense of pride. A school from Natchez, from our beloved Miss-Lou, was being put on a pedestal in Starkville, celebrated for its history-making achievement.

Cathedral, along with many other teams in the area such as Adams County Christian School, Centreville, Trinity, Ferriday, Block, Franklin County and Jefferson County made us proud. Each of those schools had a record of .500 or better, all eight made the playoffs, three made the state championship game and two brought home the state title.

As football fans in the Miss-Lou, we are truly spoiled with great football.