St. James coach Robert Valdez is still looking for an elusive quick start from his football team.
“It can hurt you when you have a young team. You kind of need that burst of confidence,” Valdez said.
Following a season-long pattern, the Wildcats fell behind 10-0 before rallying for a 14-10 halftime lead a week ago against St. Amant. St. James had a chance to stretch the advantage to 21-10 before the half but had a touchdown called back.
The second half pretty much belonged to the Gators as St. James ultimately lost 31-21 to fall to 3-2 overall.
“The opening kickoff (of the second half) we tried to get to the wall and they pinned us deep a little bit with poor field position. We knew it would be a difficult task to run the ball against a much bigger defensive line than we had been used to. We tried to throw the ball to get out of the situation and threw an interception and then a snowball effect kind of hit us at that time,” said Valdez.
After that, the St. Amant defense took over.
“I think their defensive line really did control the game and when it came down to it, they figured out they needed to come after Shamar (Smith) and take him away. They did a good job of sending pressure and coming after him,” Valdez said.
The Wildcats’ focus now switches to District 10-3A play when St. James hosts Donaldsonville on Friday night in Vacherie.
Some coaches don’t put as much emphasis on district play as they used to now that power rankings and playoff seeding have come to the forefront. Valdez isn’t necessarily one of those coaches.
“I’m a traditionalist. I believe in districts. I believe in playing things through,” the St. James coach said.
If nothing else, the start of district play allows teams of similar enrollments and roster sizes to face one another.
“It’s psychological when you look across the field for the kids to see a roster size similar to yours. It does something for you,” Valdez said.
District foe or not, the Wildcats always seem to be at a size disadvantage, especially at the line of scrimmage.
“They are not really big offensively, except for the linemen. The linemen are huge,” Valdez said.
Like St. James, the Tigers are 3-2 on the season and head into district play coming off a 40-18 loss to Livonia.
St. James and Donaldsonville are longtime rivals. Like most of the Wildcats’ games against rival teams, games tend to be close. That was the case a year ago when St. James rallied for a 26-22 triumph.
“Last year, we had the comeback game and it was a battle of attrition to come back and win the game at the end,” said Valdez.
The 2018 Tigers are led on offensive by Treveyon Brown, a freshman quarterback.
“He is electric. Everything goes around him,” Valdez said of Brown.
Joshua Collier has seen action at quarterback, mostly in a wildcat formation, but is likely to line up anywhere on the field, according to Valdez.
“They are a spread-type team,” the St. James coach said. “They will do the quick game, the spread game. They do a lot of the reads for the quarterback to get him in space. They try to get the ball to their athletes in space. Joshua Collier a scatback and running back. They use him both ways. They try to take Collier and put him on the perimeter on jet sweeps and all that.
“They do a pretty good job of balancing run and pass. They are not all the way committed to running. They like to throw the ball to their athletes and try to get the ball to some of their playmakers. I’ve seen both Collier and Brown play and I think they put Collier more in a wildcat situation.”
The Tigers aren’t necessarily looking to mount long drives against an opponent, Valdez said.
“They don’t want to be methodical. They want to be big-play driven,” he said.
The Tigers are based out of 4-2-5 alignment and feature an attacking-style defense.
“Them suckers are like bullies. They are coming. They are not waiting to get invited for milk and cookies,” Valdez laughed.
Donaldsonville, Valdez said, boasts some big defensive linemen and a big cornerback in 6-foot-2 Devant’e Leblanc.
Like St. James, the Tigers have some players who see action on both sides of the ball, such as Collier and receiver Christian Bell, who play in the secondary.
The Tigers’ aggressive style, Valdez said, even extends to special teams.
“They will try and go after blocks. They try to create momentum changes with punt and kickoff returns,” said Valdez.
Of the Wildcats’ first six games, four are considered rivalries. While that might be nerve-racking for some fans, the St. James coach said he finds the experience to be fun.
“For the fans, it may not have been fun, but for me as a coach, it’s an art when you are playing against well-coached teams and you have to strategize and all that,” Valdez said.