- Game Preview
- George Becnel
- September 12, 2018 - 8:40am
For the second year in a row, the St. James Wildcats have a chance to capture a rivalry trifecta.
St. James swept rivals West St. John, Lutcher and E.D. White to open the 2017 season. The Wildcats can make it a repeat after defeating West St. John and Lutcher going into Friday night’s game at E.D. White (1-1) in Thibodaux.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. St. James had to drive 80 yards in the final two minutes to pull off a 29-26 thriller over Lutcher a week ago.
“The biggest thing with winning that (Lutcher) game and the success and all that, is really just making sure our kids stay grounded,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said. “Going into E.D. White, this will be big. It’s their first home game and it will be the grand opening to the renovations of their stadium and they are honoring one of their undefeated state championship classes. They will have a lot of mojo going their way.
“We can’t get complacent and start reading our clippings and all that. We have to maintain our edge. We just have to stay focused as best we can and move on.”
All of the games have been exciting for the fans – including last year’s game against E.D. White in which the Wildcats edged the Cardinals 27-21 in triple overtime - but playing such emotional rivalry games can take its toll, according to Valdez.
“It’s starting to be something we’ve been doing a lot lately,” the St. James coach said of the narrow, thrilling victories. “The last couple of years we’ve done that. It’s exhausting. I don’t think a whole lot of people know how exhausting that is.
“The biggest thing with young kids is to get them to understand that was last week and move on.”
In the Lutcher game, the Wildcats, 3-0 and ranked No. 6 in Class 3A, made their final march with a bunch of young, inexperienced players on the field.
“The only kid we have on the offensive line that really had experience was Daniel (King), our right tackle,” Valdez pointed out. “Shamar (Smith) played a lot at quarterback last year but he’s still young. All of the receivers are new, young receivers. The only real game experience comes from Dontaz Sterling.
“At some point in life I will go back and still try to figure it out how we were able to do that. Just hat’s off to the kids. We were very calm and composed on the sideline in terms of the coaches and players and the moment just didn’t get too big for us. We were able to handle our composure.”
One of those inexperienced players was Tyshone Williams, who said he was going to Disneyland after his-game winning grab.
“That sucker went to Disneyland on the weekend and caught a jet-pass,” Valdez joked. “It was big for him to have that and to be able to make that type of play in that type of stage. The throw that Shamar made was a perfect pass where it was either going to be to Tyshone or would be incomplete. You talk about that at practice, but doing it is a different thing.”
In the case of E.D. White, trying to stop the Cardinals’ Wing-T offense, is one thing. Doing it is another, especially with Brandon Legendre at quarterback.
“They will be a tough team for us,” Valdez said. “I tell people all the time that you just can’t simulate a Wing-T. Nobody we’ve played so far, from scrimmages thus far, runs the Wing-T. Everybody plays fast these days. E.D. White does not play fast. E.D. White plays a slow, meticulous-type game.”
“How do you get your kids enough reps to get that aspect of the game to slow down for them?” Valdez continued. “We haven’t had yet an opportunity to play against an athletic quarterback like (Brandon) Legendre, who can make you play 11 on 11 now. That’s a big task.”
Legendre, a Louisiana-Lafayette commitment, has a special skill set, according to Valdez.
“He’s a dude. When you talk about a ‘dude,’ he’s a dude,” Valdez said. “You can see his growth. He always was fast but you can see how he’s compacted his body. You can tell he did a great job on his body in the gym. He’s tough. He can cut, he can run. He plays the game with an instinct. The game has really slowed down for him. You have factor him in everything.
“They will give it to the fullback every once in awhile just to keep you honest. The biggest thing you have to guard against is the bootleg. Because they are run proficient that they will sneak that bootleg in, get you coming up and they hit the tight end.”
Limiting the Cardinals’ offense on first down, Valdez said, will be a key factor for the St. James defense.
“Against a team like this, you have to win the first-down battle. On first down, you can’t give them no more than three yards. If they get anything three-plus yards on first down, then the downs are in their favor. You have to win the first-down battle to try and get them out of rhythm on second and third downs,” Valdez explained.
To do so, the normally quick-paced Wildcats will have to slow things down, according to their coach.
“We are built for speed, but we need to slow it down. If you play fast against them, they will just use it against you. They do so much misdirection and underneath stuff, sometimes you just right by them. You don’t even see the guys,” Valdez said.
The Cardinals defense also poses challenges to an opposing offenses, according to Valdez.
“Their defense is a bend-but-don’t-break defense. They will not take too many chances. You will have to be very, very disciplined in what you are doing with your scheme that if you are in a situation where you not having success, you do things that get you out of character,” the St. James coach said.
That was something the Wildcats had a bit of a problem with in regulation play a year ago against E.D. White, Valdez said.
“Last year, we kind of got a little bit antsy because we couldn’t get behind them,” Valdez recalled. “We were able to play the short game in overtime and it actually was more beneficial to us than them because we didn’t have to go that far.”
One of the top defenders in the Cardinals’ 4-2-5 defensive alignment is linebacker Aaron Benfield.
“Aaron Benfield is a big linebacker; a big run plugger,” said Valdez.
Controlling the line of scrimmage, Valdez said, likely will determine the outcome of Friday night’s game.
“They will be sky high because it’s their first home game. We need to maintain our level of consistency and it always comes down to the offensive and defensive lines. If our defensive line can penetrate and take away gaps and force them into long situations of if our offensive line can just give us enough space, if they can do that, the game will be in our favor,” said Valdez.