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SJH looks for four-game sweep of rivals with win over Donaldsonville

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  • George Becnel
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  • October 04, 2017 - 7:31pm

File photosShamar Smith passed for 255 yards and rushed for 78 more in his first start at quarterback for St. James in the Wildcats' 41-27 loss last Friday to St. Amant.

It’s been a case of so far, so good, for the St. James Wildcats in rivalry games.

St. James has posted wins at West St. John and at home over Lutcher and E.D. White as part of a 4-1 start for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats look to make it a four-game sweep then they play at rival Donaldsonville on Friday night in the District 10-3A opener. The Tigers are unbeaten at 5-0.

“That’s just the tradition that St. James has,” Wildcats coach Robert Valdez said. “When you play St. James, a lot of people get excited. I’m just happy to be playing these games and these communities. We have a lot in common with Donaldsonville in terms of community makeup. It’s good football.

“I’m very excited they are undefeated right now. It says a lot about our area. This is the last one where we have to worry about subliminal undertones but we just have to go out there and play football and kind of establish ourselves. If we can do block them at the line of scrimmage and sustain their offense at the line of scrimmage, I think we will be successful.”

St. James, the eighth-ranked team is Class 3A is looking to reestablish itself coming off the Wildcats’ first defeat of the season in a 41-27 home loss to unbeaten St. Amant.

The Wildcats trailed 35-13 early in the fourth quarter before making a late rally to pull to within 35-27 before ultimately losing by 14 points.

Shamar Smith made his first-ever start at quarterback against the Gators in place of injured Demarcus Williams. The sophomore finished 11 of 31 passing for 255 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He also added 78 yards rushing.

Without Williams at quarterback, the Wildcats had to improvise a bit against St. Amant, including playing top defenders Glen Brown and Shawn Preston on offense.

“Offensively, we were trying to figure out how we would put points on the board. Going into that game and as the kids’ confidence started to grow and got a lot more comfortable we made some plays and started using a variety of our weapons,” Valdez said.

Going into the district opener, the goal is to make Smith as comfortable as possible in the offense, according to Valdez.

“We kind of did something that kind of goes away from Coach Valdez’s characteristics – we went five wide and just spread the field and allowed him to pick apart the defense and he was very comfortable with that. We are prepared to do that if that’s what it comes down to put him in situations to be successful,” the St. James coach said.

As with most of the teams St. James has faced this season, the Wildcats go into the game with a size disadvantage.

“At some point the football gods will just bless us with some size,” Valdez said. “Everybody we play is much bigger than we are and that’s been every game this year. They are very freakishly-looking athletic and big. They are definitely one of those teams that pass the eyeball test.”

One guy who passes the eyeball test is 6-foot-2 quarterback Jaylin Williams.

“He throws the ball very well. They have kind of shifted gears and you can see them develop offensively throughout all the film that we’ve watched. They definitely would like to run the ball but he can run it and throw it and he’s a big guy that can see passing lanes, which gives you a lot of problems, especially when you try to stack the run and try to play some man coverage. When you put an extra guy in the box to stop the run, he definitely can makes throws on the vertical ball and kind of cause problems,” Valdez explained.

Williams has three returning starters to throw to at receiver in the Tigers’ spread offense, including seniors Ladarius Jackson and Acquindas Levy along with junior Jeffery Johnson.

“This is their senior-laden team. Sometimes you have cycles that you have been waiting for for some time. They have all of the offensive firepower with three receivers that have played a lot and a quarterback that can get the ball to them,” said Valdez.

Another veteran group impresses the St. James coach even more, Valdez said.

“I’m most impressed with their offensive line and the running back, Jemon Pleasant. He’s a bruiser. He’s a punishing running back and he’s a short-yardage guy that gives them a push. Of course, the offensive line is big and very athletic,” said Valdez.

Continuing with the veteran theme, three of the Tigers’ offensive linemen are seniors – Davon Wright, D’Ondre Fisher and Kadarrion Jones – as is Pleasant.

The Tigers, Valdez said, are scary-good on defense.

“It’s like Halloween and going to a haunted house. Tahj Brown is committed to Houston and plays defensive end and linebacker. He causes problems because he is so big, strong and versatile,” said Valdez.

Jones, Wright and Fisher also play along the defensive line. Fisher is a Tulane commitment.

Other than Brown, the rest of the Donaldsonville defenders may not be headline grabbers but are solid football players, Valdez said.

“The linebackers are very aggressive and the thing is it’s amazing to see the size they have. Their defensive backfield, they really play well by committee. They really don’t have a standout-type guy. They are successful because the front seven puts so much pressure and they capitalize on mistakes,” said Valdez.

The Tigers feature a 4-2-5 defensive scheme

“They will roll to a three-man front and drop Brown, the linebacker. In a passing situation they will go to a three-man front and try and coverage. In normal situations, they would rather stay in that four-man front,” Valdez explained.

Donaldsonville and De La Salle are both unbeaten in District 10-3A while St. James and St. Charles Catholic are coming off their first losses of the season, meaning the top four teams in the league are a combined 18-2 through the opening five weeks of the season.

With that in mind, the district season opens with a battle royal between the Wildcats and Tigers.

“Right off the bat we are taking on a team that’s undefeated and playing very, very well and clicking on all cylinders. Week-by-week, we will take every one of these teams seriously,” Valdez 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.