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Arch Manning tries to do what uncles and Odell Beckham Jr. couldn't at his high school: Win a state title

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Nelson Stewart remembers how cold it was that night.

He remembers Haynesville fans traveling in droves from the Arkansas/Louisiana border to New Orleans — a five-hour and 41-minute drive. He remembers eating lunch in the cafeteria, hearing bells and blaring horns from Haynesville fans as they circled the block around the school.

Isidore Newman was hosting the 1991 state football semifinals against the Golden Tornadoes. Stewart was a freshman defensive lineman on a team led by future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and his brother, Cooper, a senior, team captain and wide receiver at the time.

Newman had won the prior week over Kentwood on a drive orchestrated by Manning. Although Newman had a few successful teams in the 1970s, the school was not known for its football prowess.

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"I can close my eyes and remember ... that was the most people I've ever seen in the stadium," said Stewart, now the coach at Newman. "I was a ball boy and I was a water boy for years and played (football) in middle school, but that's really when I fell in love with Newman football and really started realizing how magical it was."

But Newman's storybook season didn't end happily ever after.

Manning was intercepted on the potential game-winning drive by a Haynesville linebacker who had initially fallen down but got back up on his feet in time to pick off Manning before he could react.

"Just to come within a breath of the Superdome, that was bigger than anybody's wildest dreams," Stewart said.

Thirty years later, it's still the closest Newman has come to winning a football state championship.

The Greenies had two more seasons with Peyton Manning at quarterback after 1991 and another three from his brother — two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning — in the latter half of the decade.

Then from 2007-10, Newman boasted three-time Pro Bowl selection Odell Beckham Jr., the best pure athlete Stewart has ever seen at the school.

"Any feat you could think of athletically, he could more than likely do it," Stewart said.

And now Newman has Arch Manning, the son of Cooper and nephew of Peyton and Eli, and the No. 1 quarterback and recruit in the Class of 2023. Alabama, Clemson, Ole Miss, Texas, LSU and Georgia are heavily involved in his recruitment.

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"When it comes to football, I think without question, especially on our level, it's the hardest pinnacle," Stewart said. "A state championship in football is unlike anything else. I mean, it can't just be one person. I think we see so many sports where it's one or two guys who can really influence an entire team. You look at a pitcher, one or two (players) in basketball or a goalie.

"But football is a whole unique entity. It just requires so much."

Stewart, who has been Newman's coach since 2005 and a Greenies fan following his years as a player, has witnessed it all. He's seen Newman consistently get close but leave with no cigar.

In 1992, Peyton and the Greenies lost on a last-second field goal to Pickering. Eli lost in the quarterfinals to East St. John his junior season and to Riverside Academy the next, despite only losing one regular-season game during that two-year stretch.

Newman even had seasons without any Mannings or Beckhams where they nearly broke through. In 2013, Newman reached the semifinals, falling to Catholic New Iberia, and did so again in 2017, going undefeated in the regular season before losing to the eventual state champion, Notre Dame.

Last year, with Arch at quarterback in his sophomore season, the Greenies lost in the state semifinals once again, falling 21-7 to Lafayette Christian.

Isidore Newman quarterback Arch Manning.
Isidore Newman quarterback Arch Manning.

"I do take each year on its own," Stewart said. "I don't look in the rearview mirror much, I think that's very important."

Newman has won 105 state championships. And even if none of those titles is in football, Stewart believes that this could be the year that changes.

Besides Manning, arguably the best player in the state despite being a junior, Newman is talented. Three-star offensive tackle and LSU commit Bo Bordelon is a senior captain and leads the offensive line. Will Randle, a tight end being recruited by LSU, Texas and SMU, is Manning's favorite target.

The Greenies did lose two games, but Stewart likes that his team hasn't had an easy season. He wants a unit that's fought through adversity, something Newman teams of the past could never fully overcome.

Newman, the No. 5 seed, has a first-round bye in the Division III playoffs and won't begin its title quest until next week against Episcopal.

"We've been in this moment, we see a lot of these teams," Stewart said. "It's not about being perfect every down of every regular season. It's about, you know, are you growing? Are you tough? And are you ready for that moment?"

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Arch Manning seeks state football title that eluded Peyton, Eli, OBJ