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Are Wildcats back after SJH’s opening-round playoff victory?

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  • George Becnel
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  • November 19, 2013 - 8:13pm

File photosSt. James quarterback Lowell Narcisse (2) accounted for six touchdowns in the Wildcats' 47-23 win over Lake Arthur. SJH host Sterlington on Friday night.

Is the St. James football program back?

“I think that’s the feeling,” said first-year Wildcats coach Dwain Jenkins. “At the beginning of the year, if you talked about some of the things that we needed to do to make sure the program was back on track, winning a playoff game would have been high on that list. There is nothing like playoff football. It’s important to this community and I’m just happy for our players that they get to play a home playoff game this week.”

The Wildcats may have posted losing regular-season record at 4-6 but it was a far cry from the combined 0-19 of the previous two years. When St. James got off to a 0-4 start in 2013, there weren’t too many observers thinking playoffs.

A 4-2 finish allowed St. James to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2010 and last week’s 47-23 victory at Lake Arthur represented the Wildcats’ first playoff win since 2009. That allows St. James to host Sterlington in Friday night’s Class 2A regional playoff round. A win over Panthers would give the Wildcats their first home playoff triumph since 2008.

In Sterlington, the Wildcats face a team coming off of its first home playoff win since 2006 with a 42-6 victory over Sophie B. Wright, a team St. James defeated 43-0 in Week 8. Although it’s been awhile since Sterlington won a home playoff game, the Panthers’ fall was nowhere near dramatic as that of St. James in recent years.

“Historically, they have had a really good program,” Jenkins said of Sterlington. “They’ve had some trips to the Dome not that long ago. It wasn’t that the program had fallen on really hard times, it’s just wasn’t up to those standards that Sterlington had met. They made a coaching change last year after winning a first-round game on the road. They brought in Coach (Jason) Thompson, who is coming over from Neville, a perennial power. They’ve come in and got some excitement and Sterlington is back to the ways they would rather see. First-round exits for them just weren’t acceptable.

Sixth-seeded Sterlington (8-2) enters the game coming off a game in which the Panthers rushed for 388 yards. In a regular-season game against Ferriday, Sterlington topped 600 yards on the ground.

“They are multiple at times. A lot of times they are in the (I-formation) and they run a lot of power-game stuff,” Jenkins explained. “They do have semblance of another team from that area that’s been successful, West Monroe, where they line up in that deep-I set and run the veer out of the (I-formation). They run some option and a lot of power, gap-scheme plays and they just do a good job up front of opening things up.”

St. James has faced mostly spread offenses during the regular season, although the Wildcats have gone against a few run-oriented squads. While some aspects may be similar, the Panthers’ rushing attack varies from the opponents St. James has faced in 2013.

“A lot of teams that we’ve played against have been a little more defined in what they want to do,” Jenkins said. “Lake Arthur wanted to be in the split-back and run veer. E.D. White was more their wing and they ran a lot of power against us and not as much option. Vandebilt was another team that was a power-run team but their look was a little different because they do a lot of things from the (shotgun).

“Sterlington does a lot of different things. They have a lot of variety in their run game. They like to be under center, they like to use a tight end and they like to have two backs in the game. They also will get in some spread looks and they can run it from there as well, but you know they will run the ball.”

Although St. James won by a comfortable margin against Lake Arthur, the Wildcats did allow 337 yards on the ground.

“Lake Arthur has a ton of rushing yards against us but when the game was on the line, we were able to make stops,” Jenkins pointed out. “The first half basically was a two-possession half. They got the ball on their first possession and drove it. We forced a fumble, got the ball back, and were able to score. We got the ball back and scored again to make it 13-0 an then they went on a six-minute drive to start the second quarter before we saw the ball again. We will have to be more disciplined on the defensive side to handle Sterlington. We have to tackle well and not give them second chances.”

The Wildcats, Jenkins said, will need a similar formula against Sterlington.

“Teams that want to be one-dimensional, if offensively we can put some points on the board, it’s OK sometimes to give up those yards rushing. The biggest thing for us is we have to do a better job when we get into our alignments an assignment, and ask some of those guys up front to step up their game,” the St. James coach said.

Sterlington’s top rusher is Jaylon Wade, who has run for more than 1,300 yards this season.

“He’s a guy that can make plays. He averages like nine yards a carry,” Jenkins said. “He’s not like Trey Hargrave we saw last week that will get his yards on bulk carries. Hargrave ended the season with over 300 after his 50 (actually 42) last week against us. Wade is not that type of workhorse. He will get his 15 carries a game, but he also will put up 150 yards.”

Joining Wade in the backfield is fullback Austin Haman.

“He’s a bigger back. He runs a lot of quick-hitting plays,” Jenkins said of Haman. “The key to their running game is really their front.”

Running the offense is sophomore quarterback Devon Murphy.

“With a good offensive line and the backs they have, they have been able to break in Devon Murphy at quarterback. They don’t ask him to do a lot. He’s capable of running the ball; he has almost 500 yards rushing and 600 passing. He’s able to manage the game and take advantage of some situations,” Jenkins said.

The offensive line is led by 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior Dylan Moore.

“He’s probably their best offensive lineman but they have two other guys up there that look like clones of each other that are like 6-1, 250, that’s Tyler Buffington and Chase Parks,” Jenkins pointed out.

The Panthers are multiple on defense, according to Jenkins.

“They line up in various defensive fronts, depending on the teams they’ve played. They’ve played a 3-3 stack defense, a 4-2-5. They showed some 4-3 looks. They are very multiple and they are able to move some guys around and keep you off-balance,” the St. James coach said.

The leader on defense, Jenkins said, is 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker Cody McGuire.

“He plays on the inside and he does a real good job of cleaning up things and the line does a good job of keeping bodies off of him,” Jenkins said.

Anchoring the defensive line is nose guard Nick Nale and end Demarcus Matthews.

A top player in the secondary is Jaylan King.

“Jaylan King is a sophomore but he’s a special athlete. You can tell that by some of the stuff he has done in the return game,” Jenkins said.

The home playoff game gives St. James a chance for another game at Wildcats Stadium. Next year, SJH will play at a new stadium and the school’s future campus site in Vacherie.

“I think it’s pretty exciting for this community to have that opportunity to get back. I don’t think a lot of people maybe expected that this year,” Jenkins said. “One of the things we talked about to our kids is keep believing and keep working. That’s one the things we did. I think we showed up last week and I thought we really put together our best week of practice all season long. Hopefully, we can follow that up again.

“A lot of people will point to this one as being the last one, but if there’s a little magic left in that stadium, maybe there’s a possibility that with two more wins, we could get back and have another game here. We are not ready to close it yet.”

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.