It’s a good thing St. James has at least one more game to play.
“I just want to get back on the field and shake that off,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said.
Valdez was referring to the bad taste in the mouths of his Wildcats after St. James’ 13-6 loss to St. Charles Catholic last week with the District 10-3A championship in the balance.
St. James led 7-0 when the Wildcats fumbled at their own 9-yard line late in the game. A controversial interference call in the end zone against St. James on fourth down set up a game-tying score by the Comets with less than two minutes remaining in the game. St. Charles then went on to win 13-7 in overtime.
Despite the loss, the Wildcats earned the No. 9 seed in the Class 3A playoff with a 6-4 record and will face another district rival when they host Donaldsonville. St. James defeated Donaldsonville 22-0 earlier in the season to open league play.
“We would have liked to have a little bit better playoff positioning. We really didn’t want to play someone twice, especially someone with the athletes and coaches that Donaldsonville brings. When you get in the dance, you are not too picky and choosy, you just want to play,” said Valdez.
In St. James’ regular-season win over Donaldsonville, Kaleb Brown returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game. The Wildcats followed that up with a 99-yard touchdown drive to build an early lead over the Tigers.
“We did a great job defensively. We scored a defensive touchdown and we applied pressure and kind of took them out of their rhythm,” Valdez recalled.
The Tigers, Valdez said, are better than they were in Week 6.
“Their offense has gotten a lot better. The young quarterback is a little bit more composed and they are making some big plays. Defensively, they have gotten more aggressive,” the St. James coach said.
The young quarterback is freshman Treveyon Brown.
“He’s very athletic,” Valdez said of Brown. “I think by the time he graduates he will be one of the best quarterback athletes in the area.
“What has to happen is that you cannot allow him to get comfortable. You have to be able to make sure you contain him and make sure you play solid defense.”
A comfortable Brown has a lot of weapons at his disposal.
“This is a different type of game for us because they do have some different playmakers. They can run the ball well and they have the little fast guy, Christian Bell, who is a kick returner. They use him on offense and jet sweeps and all that,” said Valdez.
Another playmaker is Joshua Collier, who sees quite a bit of time at quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
Early in the first meeting between the teams, Raeland Johnson had a number of carries against the Wildcats.
“It’s going to be good football,” Valdez said. “We are a mirror in terms of speed and athleticism and things of that nature. They are a little bit bigger than we are but it should be real good football.”
Bell and Collier also play in the defensive secondary and are joined by 6-foot-2 corner Devant’e Leblanc.
“He’s one of those guys that you will not throw the ball over the top of his head,” Valdez said of Leblanc. I” think what helps their defensive backs is that they bring so much pressure you don’t have an opportunity to set your feet and be able to throw a good pass. We don’t have many 6-foot-2 receivers, so he wins a lot of those one-on-one matchups.”
Top defenders up front include Devin Turner, Trevon Mitchell and Terrell Brown.
“Devin Turner and Trevon Mitchell are defensive end/linebacker big-body guys that can run,” said Valdez.
While St. James won the earlier contest between the teams, the Tigers have first-hand knowledge of what works for the Wildcats. By contrast, Valdez said, the Wildcats won’t change their approach just because they are facing a team for the second time.
“In those situations, you really have to do what works. You can’t go out there and start overhauling things. We want to run the football and we want to throw when we want to. We have the luxury of doing that because we have a strong defense. We try to make sure we are not careless with the ball offensively in just trying things,” the St. James coach said.
The winner of Friday’s playoff game likely will be the one that can handle early adversity, according to Valdez.
“The team that can handle the early emotions and settle in is the one that will have the advantage. Everyone will come in sky high and you have to be able to handle the early emotions and make plays. In a game like this, if you make a couple of big plays early, it can turn the momentum for you or against you,” the St. James coach said.
A win by St. James would send the Wildcats on the road for Round Two, regardless of the outcome of the North Webster-Albany game.
Until then, there is still the rematch with Donaldsonville to be played after the heartbreaking loss to St. Charles.
“Our main goal of winning a state championship is still attainable,” Valdez said. “We wanted to win district first. We had a chance to play for it. We hadn’t done it in a while, but we had a chance to play for it.
“Our main goal is still attainable. All of our attention is focused on Donaldsonville. We just don’t want to continue to dwell on it. We just want to move forward and just play. Donaldsonville will not feel sorry for us. Nobody will feel sorry for us.”