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Lutcher, St. James have different emotions entering rivalry clash

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  • George Becnel
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  • September 05, 2017 - 6:08am

File photosLutcher defensive end Norris Johnson (81) is expected to be fine after being carted from the field during the Bulldogs' 30-13 loss last Friday to East Ascension.

Few games can match the level of emotion of the St. James-Lutcher rivalry.

With bragging rights on the line for St. James Parish and even with the game now being a non-district affair, Friday night’s contest in Vacherie is likely to be just as intense as always.

Yet, the teams go into the big game from different emotional perspectives.

For the Wildcats, they are dealing with an emotional high coming off a dramatic 36-33 come-from-behind win over West St. John, another St. James rival.

It’s a bit different with the Bulldogs. A young Lutcher team is coming off a physical beating in a 30-13 season-opening loss to East Ascension.

Beyond that, the Bulldogs are coming off the emotion of having seen a motionless teammate - Norris Johnson – carted from the field via ambulance. In regard to Johnson, it appears the senior linebacker will be just fine, although it didn’t seem that way to his teammates on Friday night.

“Things were very positive late Friday night into Saturday morning,” Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins reported. “He was able to leave the emergency room. He was up walking and moving around and able to twist and turn everything. They think it’s just some sort of bruise somewhere on the back of the neck, maybe a little whiplash but on the field with some of the field tests they were doing, he wasn’t giving some positive responses so they took every precaution necessary and once they got to the hospital and they got him in a controlled environment, it was a lot more positive than what we expected on the field.”

The Lutcher coach said he expects Johnson will be able to return to the playing field sometime this season.

Lutcher (0-1) managed to control the clock in the first half and managed a 13-7 lead at the break. A constant pounding by a much larger East Ascension team eventually took its toll on the Bulldogs.

“I thought in the first half we played pretty well,” Jenkins said. “I think what gets lost when you lose a game and the expectations are where they are here and sometimes people don’t look at what is actually of the field – obviously when you looked out on the field, EA was a much more impressive-looking football team than we had out there.

‘The first half, we played well and kind of had things go like we needed to be successful, with the exception of the kick return.”

While the Bulldogs worked to build their lead – going on two five-minute drives and another eight-minute possession in the first half – East Ascension got back in the game in a matter of seconds. That was due to the Spartans’ Jimel London. London returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and a punt 67 yards for another score. He also had an interception and two other touchdowns called back.

“We have guys that will just have to step up on our special teams. A lot of times people think about playing both ways they always forget about special teams. We have some of our best guys that will have to play special teams for us to be successful,” Jenkins said.

Lutcher is a two-time defending Class 3A team now competing in Class 4A with a young team. Because of the success perspective can be lost on some observers, according to Jenkins.

“The concern for us in a game that will get that much attention and have that much magnitude around it, coming off last week against Destrehan everybody was so excited to beat Destrehan and now you lose to EA, you are feeling sorry for yourself and wondering what the season may hold. But for us, we’re still a young football team and we have to understand what that process looks like to get better. You are rolling out nine and 10 sophomores starting on Friday nights; those guys have to understand it is a learning process,” the Lutcher coach said.

Despite it all, there’s nothing like a Lutcher-St. James game.

“You know it will be exciting,” Jenkins said. “St. James is returning an excellent football team. To have the resolve after being down 27-6, and watching the film, West St. John had a chance to really put it away even at 27-6 and didn’t take advantage of the opportunity and St. James responded and really just made plays down the stretch and took advantage off some miscues in special teams and made the improbable run and it was able to get a big-time win.”

At quarterback for St. James is Demarcus Williams. Williams was expected to be a first-time starter in 2016 after being slated to be the backup to Lowell Narcisse, now at LSU. Because of knee injuries to Narcisse his final two years with the Wildcats, Williams is now going into his third season as the St. James starting signal-caller.

“He’s a remarkable kid to be put in that situation to walk in that shadow for two years of Lowell Narcisse but really embrace it and understand that he can be a pretty good football player and take on his role. You look at a guy who’s supposed to be following up an All-American national recruit at quarterback and you have to replace this guy and he (Williams) is already a seasoned veteran with a lot of big-game experience,” said Jenkins, who helped tutor a younger Williams during his three-year stint as the St. James coach.

Now that the offense belongs to him, Williams may be a different type of quarterback in 2017, according to Jenkins.

“Going into his senior year and with the emergence of Shamar Smith at receiver – who will be a great quarterback for them, too, in the near future – but with (Smith’s) emergence as a big-play guy on the outside, it has afforded them to use Demarcus more now in the run game. That’s one of the things they didn’t do a lot of last year just for the concern that if Demarcus got hurt, they didn’t have another guy to back him up. But now that Shamar Smith’s there and his emergence and ability to make plays, they can use Demarcus more as a dynamic athlete,” Jenkins said.

St. James has lost a lot of experience receiving talent the past couple of seasons but with Smith, only a sophomore, developing as a receiver, a void is being quickly filled.

“With Shamar Smith, you saw that star potential early-on. He’s definitely stepping up to fill the role with the losses of Dontaze Costly and a Curt Johnson, who had played there for a long time, and the year before that when they had Arron McKinney, all those names are gone but Shamar had definitely stepped up to fill that role,” said Jenkins.

Another developing sophomore receiver option is 6-foot-4, 200-pound Devonne White

“Devonne White, with his pure size, will continue to be a mismatch problem. He has a big body and the potential to be a great receiver,” Jenkins said.

Dontaz Sterling is a game-breaking threat at running back.

“Dontaz Sterling looks poised to have an incredible season with big plays not only in the run game but in the passing game,” said Jenkins.

Sterling and fellow running back Sean Lebeouf give the Wildcats some offensive versatility.

“They can get from different formations and different back looks without having to change personnel. Because Dontaz and Lebeouf can both line up and play in the slot and receiver, they can go from four wides to two backs and really mix some things up. In the past, to make those changes they had to change personnel,” Jenkins explained.

The skilled position players get capable help from the offensive line, according to Jenkins.

“They are returning an offensive line that has some experience, especially when they bring back over Chase Davis, who had been a two-year starter on offense and moved him back over (from defense in 2016) and Jason Dumas comes over and play on the offensive line, you have a pretty sizeable, physical front that gives them an opportunity to be pretty explosive,” the Lutcher coach said.

Like the St. James offense, the Wildcats also feature versatility on defense.

“I know Shawn Preston is a big-time talent and is a dynamic football player but the first thing that stands out when you watch them defensively is just the way they play up front. Those guys return with a lot of experience,” Jenkins said. “Kyren Harris is a three-year starter at defensive end. Jason Dumas has been playing since he was a freshman. Chase Davis started early as a freshman and sophomore (on defense) and as a junior on the offensive line, just his physicality and moving him over to the defensive line, he has a good motor and he plays extremely hard. You play those three guys on the defensive line and you have a pretty formidable task.

“Dwayne White is kind of their swing player. He can play down and he can play linebacker, so it gives them an opportunity to be versatile – to go from a four-man front to a three-man front without having to change guys on the field.”

And then there’s Preston.

“Shawn Preston is a big-time playmaker. He’s the prototypical SEC safety/outside linebacker. He looks the part and he plays the part. He plays with extreme emotion. He seems to make big plays when they need them the most, whether it’s causing a fumble or making a big hit behind the line of scrimmage,” said Jenkins.

The Wildcats also feature a couple of other talented players in the secondary.

“The other two guys in that secondary that kind of make things go is Glen Brown, who has been playing for a long time, and Rashod Pierre is another guy who has played a long time. He started a game as an eighth grader at receiver and played some receiver early-on in his career. He made the switch to defense and has become a really good football player,” Jenkins said.

St. James showed stamina in its rally over West St. John while Lutcher wore down against East Ascension. That’s a concern for the Bulldogs coach going into Friday’s encounter.

“I know we have to do a better job of being prepared to play 48 minutes up and down the roster because we don’t have the depth. We don’t have that guy that can come in and give us a spell so our guys that are on the field have to do a better job during the week of getting them prepared and practicing at a level that allows them to play the way they want to play for 48 minutes,” Jenkins said.

Most coaches talk of turnovers and special teams as likely keys to victory in big games. Like other aspects of Friday’s matchup, the teams are coming off opposite efforts in regards to special teams.

“In big-time games, it’s how do you survive the momentum or the big plays. The one thing you have to say about St. James coming off the game with West St. John is they showed they are resilient enough to overcome those big plays early-on. Their backs were against the wall at 27-6 and it would have been easy for those kids to just fold up and take the loss but they didn’t. They kept fighting and eventually some good fortune found their way,” Jenkins said.

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.