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St. James seeks first win over Lutcher since resumption of series

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  • George Becnel
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  • September 06, 2017 - 9:20pm

File photosLutcher quarterback Kolby Bourgeois' improvisational effort out of the end zone against East Ascension had St. James' Robert Valdez thinking of Jontre Kirklin.


St. James goes into its rivalry game against Lutcher coming off a dramatic 36-33 come-from-behind victory over West St. John.

Lutcher enters the game following a 30-13 loss to East Ascension after giving up a 13-7 halftime edge.

Those particulars don’t matter much to St. James fans. What does matter is the fact the Wildcats have not beaten the Bulldogs since their rivalry was renewed in 2015, which includes a defeat to Lutcher in the Class 3A championship game.

“You can throw all that out the window,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said of last week’s results. “They (the Bulldogs) will be ready to play. This is bragging rights. The one thing that Lutcher has with all its state championships is they have dominated us. Those kids over there and that coaching staff in the back of their minds, they don’t believe they can lose to St. James.

“Last year, we went into that game wanting to beat Lutcher but I don’t know we totally believed we could beat them. Our kids believe we can beat them but we have to go out there and prove it. We have to make it a reality.”

The reality is St. James, ranked No. 8 in Class 3A, takes on a Bulldogs team with an explosive offense, although Lutcher was held to two touchdowns against East Ascension – one coming off of special teams following a blocked field-goal attempt.

Lutcher, ranked No. 8 in Class 4A, is without Jontre Kirklin, who is now at LSU after leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back state championship. Taking over at quarterback is junior Kolby Bourgeois. While Bourgeois may not be as dynamic as Kirklin, he has more athletic ability than some might think, according to Valdez.

“The thing about Kolby - and I saw it last year in junior varsity – he has a great command of the offense,” said Valdez. “The difference with Jontre Kirklin was that he was so athletic that he could extend plays and make plays happen all over the field. Kolby did that on one play (in which he scrambled back into his own end zone before tossing downfield to a wide-open receiver for a first down against East Ascension) and looked like the heir apparent to Jontre Kirklin.”

“What he brings to the table is a quarterback that has command of the offense,” Valdez continued. “We know they are trying to do everything quick. They want to get the ball to their playmakers quick in space and they want to be able to change the pace and want to be able to find your coverage holes and they want to get the ball out of his hands quick. He has a strong arm. If he can set his feet and get the ball going, he has good spin on the ball. They do enough in the run game to keep them balanced.”

The running game comes mainly in the form of senior Daevon Adams.

“He’s a quick sparkplug type of guy,” Valdez said of Adams. “It’s not their pattern for their running backs to carry the ball 20 times a game. He’s a guy that will give them some gritty runs and he will create matchup problems is you try and cover other guys and isolate him one-on-one. He’s perfect for what they do offensively.”

Jacoby Williams is a sophomore receiver who is getting the ball more and more as a runner. Rondell Mealey is a running back who factors in the passing game.

“That’s what they do. That’s why they are so dangerous. They have those guys that are matchup problems for linebackers. They are so quick and athletic. You try to play your base defense but sometimes your base defense may not be able to match up with some of their athletes. With Mealey and Williams that’s kind of where they have an edge when they spread the field and make you cover the entire field,” said Valdez.

Senior Gregory Clayton is the veteran deep threat on the outside.

“Gregory Clayton still haunts me with that doggone catch he made last year right in front of the Dog Pound. I want him to know I didn’t forget that,” Valdez laughed. “He’s a spectacular athlete.”

Clayton hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass right before halftime to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 21-8 in an eventual 28-14 loss for the Wildcats.

Meanwhile, Lutcher’s defense is young, returning on three starters.

“They are one of the best-coached defensive teams in the state. The thing I appreciate about watching them play is they are a great-tackling, ball hawk team. They tackle legs, they run to the ball and they do a good job with their contain lanes,” Valdez explained.

Anchoring the defensive line is Keiron Goudia. Another top lineman is Rowdy Scott. They are two of Lutcher’s three returning defensive starters. The other is junior defensive back Zane McCrary.

Key linebackers include Gabriel Brand and Chris Burkhalter, according to Valdez.

“They are like piranhas. They keep coming and coming and coming,” Valdez said.

Coaches often speak of turnovers and special teams playing major factors in big games. Going into Friday’s tilt, St. James is coming off a game against West St. John in which it took advantage of kicking game mistakes to pull out its win over the Rams. Meanwhile, Lutcher allowed long kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ loss to East Ascension.

“In games like this where you have so much emotions and things going on, those game-breakers, you have to make those count when you need them. I think we did a good job we have to continue to be aggressive and that when you do that, it adds to the practice schedule of the other teams. They look at it on film and they said, ‘OK, we have to spend a little extra time making sure our punt protection is solid. We have to spend a little extra time making sure get back there and try to block that field goal and extra point.’ It could be a determining factor,” Valdez said.

With Marksville up next for Lutcher and St. James facing yet another rival in E.D. White next week, neither the Bulldogs nor Wildcats want a loss going into Week 3.

“I don’t know what the rest of their schedule looks like but they don’t want to be 0-2. For us, we need to be 2-0, looking at the rest of our schedule and the battles we are about to face moving forward,” said Valdez.

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.