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ESJ looks to take next step with playoff win over East Ascension

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  • George Becnel
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  • November 08, 2018 - 10:23am

File photosEast Ascension quarterback Jason Wakefield (10) gets protection for a Spartans offensive line that averages 311 pounds. EA hosts East St. John on Friday.

East Ascension has a penchant for defeating River Parish teams and the East St. John Wildcats hope to not be among that number.

The Spartans defeated Lutcher 35-7 in Week 1 and St. Charles Catholic 21-2 in Week 5 on the way to a 9-1 season and the No. 5 seed in the Class 5A playoffs. East Ascension will host East St. John, the No. 28 seed, Friday night in Gonzales.

When scouting the Spartans, the first thing that draws the attention of opposing coaches is the sheer physical size of East Ascension along the line of scrimmage. EA’s offensive line averages 311 pounds, anchored by Falepule Alo, a 330-pound junior center.

“When you look at them, their size jumps completely off the screen. Those guys are extremely huge up front,” East St. John coach Brandon Brown said.

The Wildcats qualified for the playoffs despite getting off to a 2-5 start. East St. John has won three games in a row going into the postseason.

“Our kids are motivated. They understand what’s at stake. We’ve been talking playoffs since Hahnville week. We knew we were down to one-game seasons. Now it’s really here. It is a one-game season from here on,” Brown said.

For ESJ’s one-game season to last one game longer, the Wildcats will have to find a way to deal with East Ascension’s huge offensive line.

“Those guys hang their hats behind their big guys,” Brown said. “Their big guys run-block well and pass-protect well. They are the catalyst of their team.

“We are not very big up front. We will have to use our speed and quickness. We will have to get after the ball and attack, attack, attack. I think maybe we can neutralize some things.”

The Spartans are a spread team but also will utilize some pro-style sets.

Directing the offense is quarterback Jason Wakefield.

“We just have to put some pressure on him. We have to try to get him a little rattled. He’s very, very poised in the pocket and does a good job of completing the ball to some very good receivers,” said Brown.

The receiving corps consists of Steven McBride, Markquell Stewart and Shaivonn Robinson. Robinson is the standout of the group.

“They run good routes, they catch the ball well,” Brown said of the EA receiving corps.

The Spartan receivers versus the ESJ defensive backs should provide for an interesting matchup, according to Brown.

“I think our strength of our team is our secondary all year. If we can eliminate the big plays and don’t give any cheap touchdowns, we will be in good shape,” the East St. John coach said.

Running behind East Ascension’s big offensive line are Ethan Bagwell and Evan Copeland.

“Those guys are kind of running back by committee. They both get their share of touches. They both run extremely hard. They are in between the tackle-type guys. I don’t think they will hurt us with their speed from the running back position, however, they are very tough. If we don’t tackle well, it will be a tough night,” said Brown.

The Spartans are based out of a 4-3 alignment on defense.

“I was very impressed with their front. Their defensive line really gets after it,” said Brown.

One of the linemen is defensive tackle Deshon Hall, a Louisiana Tech commitment.

“He’s extremely good. He’s difficult to block. We will have to use formations and do some things unique to just get an advantage on those guys. They are so big and strong up front,” Brown said.

Others along the defensive front include Damon McDonald and the appropriately-named Stanford Knockum.

“That’s exactly what he does – he knocks ’em. He’s big up front, about 5-10, 300 pounds. He’s a man in the middle,” said Brown.

Brown, the Wildcats’ first-year coach, inherited a team that went 5-5 a year ago and lost in the opening round of the playoffs. After matching last season’s regular-season mark, the East St. John coach said this year’s group would like to take things at least one step further.

“My senior class worked extremely hard,” Brown said. “We talked about not taking a step back with our program. We talked about leaving a legacy; leaving the program better than they found it. Those kids understand that and that’s their goal.

“Last year at this point, they were 5-5 and they lost in the first round of the playoffs. They want to take the next step. I think we will be extremely motivated Friday night.”

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.