Most high school football fans knew De La Salle was an outstanding football team but the visiting Cavaliers showed how special they are Friday night against the St. James Wildcats.
The Cavaliers recovered three blocked punts for touchdowns and used a punt return to set up another score as De La Salle, the top-ranked team in Class 3A, dominated St. James 63-7 at Wildcat Stadium in Vacherie.
“We came out with a lot of energy and we were fighting and clawing and fighting back a little bit but those things are demoralizing. They knock the winds out of your sails,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said of blocked punts.
De La Salle, which went into the game ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 3 in the unofficial Division II power ratings, improved to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in District 10-3A. St. James, which entered the game No. 8 in Class 3A and as the top-rated team in the power rankings, dropped to 6-2 overall and 2-1 in district.
The result of Friday’s game, Valdez said, shows what type of ground the Wildcats need to make up to compete with the likes of De La Salle.
“We know how far we are from being an elite ball club because you can’t make those mistakes against elite ball clubs,” Valdez said. “You can’t give them three blocked punts for touchdowns and 21 against a team that is as good as they are.
“We have to get back in the lab and fix some things. We know how much we have to work to get to that level.”
De La Salle’s Lance Robinson blocked all three of the punts – two in the first half – and another in the third quarter he returned for a touchdown.
St. James forced De La Salle to punt on the game’s opening possession but the Cavaliers down the ball at the Wildcats’ 3-yard line. The Wildcats reached the 12-yard line but Dontaz Sterling was dropped for a loss on third down and it was St. James’ turn to punt.
Robinson blocked Alec Mahler’s punt, with Ivan Paz recovering in the end zone for a 7-0 De La Salle lead at the 7:40 mark of the first quarter to set the tone for the game.
An exchange of punts eventually gave De La Salle the ball at its own 35 late in the first quarter. Two plays after the Cavaliers converted on fourth-and-6 from the St. James 31, De La Salle quarterback Julien Gums scored on a 20-yard keeper to make it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
A penalty against St. James on the ensuing kickoff forced the Wildcats to take possession at their own 9-yard line. With St. James facing fourth-and-15 from the 4, Robinson came up with another blocked punt, this one recovered by Noble Scott for a 21-0 lead at the 8:36 mark of the second quarter.
St. James managed to get off a punt on its next possession from its own 19 but De La Salle’s B.J. Randle returned the kick to the Wildcats’ 11. Three plays later, Gums scored from 2-yards out for a 28-0 lead with 6:12 left in the third quarter.
Trailing by four touchdowns, the Wildcats attempted to convert when facing fourth-and-7 from the De La Salle 48 late in the first half. St. James quarterback Shamar Smith was sacked, giving the ball to the Cavaliers on downs.
Four plays later, Aaron Marquez scored on a 26-yard jet sweep to give De La Salle a 35-0 halftime lead.
Despite the lopsided scored, the Wildcats had managed to come up with a few defensive stops but were doomed by the special teams blunders.
“I think we had a pretty solid game plan,” Valdez said. “We went with a five-man front and we fought. I think our kids played hard. In the first quarter, we are right in there. We came up with a couple of tackles for loss and did a lot of good things.
“I don’t think our offensive line was overly dominated and I think that is the best defensive line we will face all year.”
Robinson picked up in the third quarter where he left off in the first half, blocking another punt. This time, he returned the ball 11 yards for a score and a 42-0 lead.
With the game out of reach, Ryan Hamrick took over Cavaliers, rushing for three touchdowns in the second half while finishing with 203 yards on 11 carries.
St. James avoid a shutout on a 4-yard run by Smith with 8:20 left in the game that made the score 56-7 at the time.
The Cavaliers finished with 365 yards, all but 19 coming on the ground. St. James ended with less than 200 yards of total offense.
St. James has to regroup as the Wildcats close out the season with a pair of road games at Lusher and St. Charles Catholic.
“We will look at the film and identify the things we need to work on. I still think we have a lot to play for. I still believe that there is so much more we can learn from this loss than a lopsided win. We have to look forward and keep moving ahead and keep plugging,” Valdez said.