by Jerit Roser // GeauxPreps.com Contributor
Opelousas players appeared Friday afternoon to be still wrapping their mind around the full significance of their performance.
The Tigers jumped on rival Cecilia and powered to a 26-13 victory in Caesar’s Superdome to claim the first football state championship in school history in their first title-game appearance since 1956.
“It’s gonna be pretty big, because we’re gonna be remembered for some years,” star running back D’Shaun Ford said.
Coach Jimmy Zachery quickly corrected him, “Forever,” as they both smiled.
Zachery added: “If they’re scared to talk, I’m gonna tell you: I feel good. I feel real good. I can’t wait to walk with my chest out. I’m a champion.”
The potential of a state championship once seemed an improbable, if not impossible, dream for the program scratching its way through a decade without a winning record and with more winless seasons and .500 ones.
But Zachery took over his alma mater’s program in 2019 with one goal in mind.
“I used to tell ‘em when they would come and watch the games,” Zachery said of the 2025 standouts when they were younger. “‘Y’all don’t wanna be like this class. When y’all become freshmen, you wanna set yourself apart. This is the do’s. This is the don’t’s. A championship ball club don’t miss practice. A championship ball club don’t be late to practice. A championship ball club practices like champions in practice.’ So we were selling that message to ‘em since they were in eighth grade, and then those guys and just buy-in and we hit the ground running and just hats off to those guys.”
Opelousas finished 0-5 during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, then 6-6 with a second-round playoff appearance in 2021.
Senior offensive lineman Keegan Moten said this week that Zachery’s hunger for a title and confidence in the program’s potential to chase one was clear from the moment the coach convinced him to come out for the team before last year.
“The first time he got on me, it started clicking, ‘Oh, man, he wants to win the championship,’” Moten said. “Even last year, my first year playing, it’s always been, ‘To the Dome,’ every time we finish a drill or get a break, it’s ‘To the Dome.’ Our chant is ‘To the Dome.’ Everything has been ‘To the Dome.’ So we’ve had this set in stone, our goal on where we wanted to go.”
The Tigers finished the 2022 regular season 9-1 and earned a No. 3 seed and a first-round bye, but lost their second-round matchup by a point.
This year’s team navigated three regular-season losses and a tough, five-game playoff road that included the defending champion, the top seed and a district rival to whom Opelousas had lost its previous matchup.
But the Tigers powered through every step and completed the mission.
“It feels good, man,” Zachery said. “I feel like the great Muhammad Ali. He always called his shots, man. But at the end of the day, I just feel like we put a lot of work in and time away from our family. (The players) give time away from their families. For us to get to the first round, or the second round and get knocked out, that’s not the expectation. The expectation is to get to the Dome, man. And I mean, we want to win championships over here.”