Playing for titles Pios’ goal since Day 1 of Cook Era
By Chris Quebedeaux
CROWLEY – When Lewis Cook took over as head coach of the Notre Dame Pioneers 12 years ago, the game plan was simple.
“When I got here in 1997, the goal that we set as a coaching staff was to obviously play for a championship,” Cook recalled earlier this week.
Fast forward to 2009 and Cook and Pios haven’t only attained that goal - they’ve exceeded it beyond anyone’s and everyone’s expectations!
Overall since 1997, the Pios have won 10 district titles, one state championship and played in five title games.
Tonight, they will have an opportunity to add another state title to their trophy case when they take on Parkview Baptist in the Class AAA final at the Louisiana Superdome at 8 o’clock.
The Pios, seeded No.1 heading into the playoffs, enter the game 14-0. Parkview Baptist, No. 2, is 12-1.
“Parkview has won two championships in 2001 and 2007 and they’re always close to getting there,” said Cook of Parkview. “It will be like playing against ourselves. They are well coached, have good special teams and are very physical. You have two teams real similar to one another going at it.”
Cook, a two-time Louisiana Coach of the Year, said he knew of the Pios’ potential when he took the position after a successful stint at cross-town Crowley High.
“I was fortunate when I was at Crowley High,” he said. “We made three trips (to finals), so we kind of knew that it was possible.
“We took a team that was 0-22 at Crowley High and five years later we got to play for the championship.”
It didn’t take that long to get the Pios to the state title game, but the road wasn’t easy, either.
“The one biggest concern we had when we got here at Notre Dame was that we were moving from Class AA to AAA,” said Cook. “For 30 years, Notre Dame had been a AA school.
“Fortunately, we had a couple guys that helped us along the way.”
One was LSU assistant track coach Boo Schexnayder, who offered advice about training.
“We realized after two years that we had to train a little bit differently than we had trained before because of the type of players that we had,” said Cook. “The coaches bought into it and did a great job and the kids bought into it and we made that first trip.”
That first trip in 2000 produced Notre Dame’s third state title. From there, the Pios returned to the semifinals the following two years, losing to Parkview in 2001 (42-13) and Patterson in 2002 (46-20).
The Pios went on to make three straight championship appearances after that from 2003-2005.
“The next two years (2001 and 2002) we were in the semifinals so we knew we could make a deep run,” said Cook. “We just couldn’t get back (to the dome). Finally, in 2003, we made our fourth straight semifinal appearance, won the game and got to go back.”
Cook basks in the fact that the Pios are one of only a handful of teams to go to the finals three consecutive years. They join teams like John Curtis, Evangel and West Monroe in that regard.
“You can count on one hand the schools that have done that and we were one of them,” he said. “It’s mind boggling what these kids have been able to do over the last 10 years.”
Just as impressive has been the record the Pios have amassed over the last 10 years. The Pios have an overall record during that time of 124-15. Of the possible 50 weeks of playoff football over that period, Friday’s game will mark Notre Dame’s 44th week of postseason action.
“There’s been 150 weeks of football in those 10 years and we’ve played 144 of them,” said Cook, whose team sports a playoff record of 35-8 during that span. “John Curtis is probably the only team that has played more than that.”
The only difference is that John Curtis has more championship trophies than the Pios.
“It is disappointing that we’ve gone (to the dome) five times and only have one championship to show for it,” said Cook. “And I’m not sure what the reasons are. We either played somebody better than us or we didn’t play well enough that night to beat a team that was equal or we may have been a little bit better than.
“But the thing about it is, just the fact that they’ve been able to sustain themselves for five weeks for six years and four weeks for another three years is just amazing.
“The thing is that they are just so consistent. There’s been one year out of the last 10 that it wasn’t a 14-week season. Winning or not, after the first round, things start evening out pretty dang good. To be able to execute and find a way to win and keep going year after year after year. And then you throw on top of that, over the last 10 year’s, we’ve only had a handful of (college) signees. These guys have played all these weeks and won all these game with four or five signees. That’s just amazing.”