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Odds-defying playoff run ends for St. James in 2A quarterfinal loss

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  • Game Recap
  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • November 30, 2013 - 4:50am

Photos by Chad JasminPlayers such as senior D'Kwan Sandolph (5) leave a legacy for St. James as the Wildcats wiped away the memory of a 25-game losing streak.

KINDER, La. – St. James coach Dwain Jenkins implored his team for one final chance despite the improbable odds.

The Wildcats trailed by 14 points with less than two minutes left and desperately needed a stop and the ball back. Leading 21-7, the Kinder Yellowjackets were looking to put a final sting to the Wildcats, attempting to convert on a fourth-and-2 at the St. James 7-yard line.

Kinder quarterback Austin Pickle fumbled on a sneak, allowing St. James to gain possession at its own 4-yard line with 1:40 left in the game. Four plays into the ensuing drive, SJH quarterback Lowell Narcisse tossed a screen to Camrin Grows, who broke loose on a 52-yard sprint down to the Yellowjackets’ 14. On the next play, Narcisse scored on a keeper. Aquindas Steib’s extra point attempt was wide right, leaving the score at 21-13.

“Our defense got a stop and we knew we had to get in the end zone. We ran quick and I was able to get the ball to my playmaker and he made a play,” Narcisse said of the pass play to Grows to set up the quarterback’s touchdown run.

In another odds-defying play, the Wildcats managed to come up with the ball amid a sea of players on onside kick right in the middle of the field, giving the ball back to St. James with 27 seconds left in the contest.

A heave by Narcisse with 17 seconds left in the game with intercepted by Kinder’s Khalil Leblanc, bringing an end to the comeback attempt and odds-defying season with a 21-13 loss in the Class 2A quarterfinals.

“We just asked our defense to give us a chance. They get the ball back for us and we go 90-something yards in a minute and get another touchdown and get the onside kick and you just give yourselves a chance. That’s all you can ask the kids, keep fighting and give yourselves a chance,” Jenkins said.

For Kinder coach Bret Fuselier, the interception by Khalil summed up the play of his team.

“Even when they got the onside kick, Khalil Leblanc, who made a heck of a catch on the touchdown earlier, he made a heck of an interception. He came from the other side of the field. Bottom line, when we had to make plays, we made them,” the Kinder coach said.

Kinder (12-1), the No. 3 seed, advances to the Class 2A semifinals and will host second-seeded Winnfield.

St. James, the lowest-seeded team among nine playoff brackets to reach the quarterfinals, ended its season 6-7.

Even the 6-7 mark was odds defying. St. James started the season 0-4 to stretch its losing streak to 25 games. Winning even a single game was still in doubt until the Wildcats won four of their final six regular-season games to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 22 seed. Upsets over Lake Arthur and Sterlington allowed St. James to reach the quarterfinals.

“You look back and you look at what the expectations were,” Jenkins said. “We talked about some things. We wanted to win at home and we finished 4-2 at home. We wanted to make the playoffs and here we are playing Thanksgiving weekend. The last thing we wanted to do was bring the excitement back to the community and I think that was mission accomplished. (Although) 6-7 is not the greatest record in the world but from where this program is now to where it was, we at least have a foundation we can build on for the future.”

St. James trailed by 14 points at halftime but gave Wildcat fans something to cheer about early in the third quarter. The fans, which made the three-hour journey, packed the visiting stands at John C. Buck Stadium and were rows deep along a fence in front of the stands.

A fumble by Kinder fullback Jordan Vickers on the opening possession of the second half gave the ball to St. James at the Yellowjackets’ 39-yard line. Facing fourth down at the 7-yard line, Narcisse scrambled to buy more time before spotting Arron McKenny in the back of the end zone. Steib’s extra point put the Wildcats back in the game at 14-7 at the 6:19 mark of the third quarter.

Kinder responded in typical fashion. The Yellowjacks mounted a 63-yard drive that took 14 plays that ate up 7:45 and stretched into the fourth quarter.

After running Vickers most of the first half, Taylor Johnson was the workhorse of the drive. He carried the ball times in the drive, including four consecutive carries at one point. A crucial play came when the Wildcats jumped offside as Kinder faced fourth-and-2 at the St. James 32 to give the Yellowjacks a fresh set of downs. Vickers culminated the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to give Kinder a 21-7 lead with 10:30 left in the game.

Vickers finished with 167 yards rushing on 19 attempts. Johnson rushed for 65 yard with all but two of his 12 carries coming in the second half.

“That’s what they want to do. They want to be able to run the ball. They have two good ball carriers. Vickers is their main guy. He was able to pound on us and he’s a big back. In the second half (Johnson) had some fresh legs and he was able to get some big chunks at the end,” Jenkins said.

“All year long they have rotated series. Taylor Johnson may hit it a little quicker but Jordan Vickers is a pounder. They have been complimenting each other all year,” said Fuselier.

Kinder’s Wing-T offense looked to be in perfect form on the Yellowjackets’ opening possession of the game.

A Wildcats punt on the opening possession of the game had Kinder in the shadow of its end zone, starting its initial drive at its own 4-yard line.

The Yellowjacks mounted a 12-play, 96-yard drive that used up 5:47 on the clock. Kinder ran the ball 10 times in the drive as the Yellowjacks’ misdirection offense amassed seven first downs. Quarterback Austin Pickle completed 1 of 2 passing attempts on the drive with the one completion going to Welles Cooley for 18 yards on a first-and-15 play. Two plays later, Vickers scored on a 9-yard off-tackle run for a 7-0 Kinder lead. Vickers ran the ball five times on the drive for 50 yards.

“You preach all week long and you have a game plan and that’s what you want to do with the first drive, is kind of set the tone of the game. We were able to finish the drive. That’s what good teams do,” Fuselier said.

After Narcisse completed his first pass of the game for a 19-yard gain on the Wildcats’ opening possession, the freshman failed to complete a pass the remainder of half. He finished the game 8 of 17 passing for 164 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Following Kinder’s touchdown, the Wildcats took a page out of the Yellowjacks’ playbook and went to the ground game, mostly with Narcisse rushing the ball. Narcisse rushed for a team-high 88 yards on 19 carries.

The play of the Kinder secondary, Jenkins said, played a role in the Wildcats’ attempt to run the ball more later in the first half.

“I think their defensive backs did a good job of being physical with our receivers. Not necessarily at the line of scrimmage but as we were releasing our routes and it kind of threw off our timing early on. The other thing that kind of hurt us, we got behind the sticks a couple of times and they were able to pin their ears back and get a lot of pressure on us,” the St. James coach said.

Narcisse ran the ball four times in a five-play drive early in the second quarter before a pass attempt by the freshman quarterback was intercepted by Wallace Burns at the Kinder 37 but a personal foul penalty against the Yellowjacks at the end of the play backed up Kinder to its own 13.

The teams exchanged fumbles with the turnover by St. James proving quite costly. After the Wildcats gained possession at the Kinder 47 following a Yellowjackets fumble, SJH reached the Kinder 32 before Narcisse fumbled with four minutes remaining in the first half.

Kinder moved from its own 30 to the St. James 10 with eight seconds left in the second quarter when the Yellowjacks faced second-and-4. Pickle found Leblanc in the left side of the end zone with two seconds left to give Kinder a two-touchdown lead at the break.

“You look back at the game now, that’s the difference in it. The last drive they scored, they threw that touchdown pass with two seconds left on the clock. That was something we’ve done the last two weeks. They were able to get that score and that ends up being the difference in the game,” Jenkins said.

The late first-half touchdown gave the Yellowjacks the cushion they would need for the win.

The loss brought the season to an end for the Wildcats, but the playoff run helped to establish a legacy for players like Sandolph and the other St. James seniors.

“I’m glad we turned it around. I’m glad to say I was in the senior class that turned the St. James program back around. I wish them all the luck. They have a chance to come back and go further,” Sandolph 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.