ABBEVILLE, La. – Even West St. John coach Robert Valdez thought his team may have scored a bit too early in the closing moments of the fourth quarter in the Class 1A semifinals against Vermilion Catholic.
In a game in which the teams traded touchdown for touchdown, the Rams pulled ahead 48-41 on a 40-yard run by Kylum Favorite with 3:12 left in the game.
“I thought we might have scored a little too fast with (the Eagles’) high-octane offense,” Valdez said.
For one of the few times in the game, a defense forced a fourth down when the Eagles faced a fourth-and-2 from their own 35 with 1:33 left in the game. For one of the few times in the game, Vermilion Catholic quarterback Aaron David was off target on a pass, enabling West St. John to take over on downs.
The Rams appeared to be in position to take a knee with Vermilion Catholic down to one timeout but Favorite had other ideas. On the first play from scrimmage, Favorite burst loose for another touchdown run and a 54-41 final that sends West St. John to the Class 1A state championship at 3 p.m. next Friday in the Superdome. WSJ will face Ouachita Christian, a 54-0 winner over Mangham.
“I just knew if we had another chance at it, we weren’t going to take the foot off the pedal because they can score so fast, so therefore when we got that last drive I said we had to keep running and trying to score,” Valdez said.
A strong contingent of West St. John fans made their way to see the Rams advance to the state finals.
“River Parish football is the best in the state and we are right along with them,” Valdez beamed. “Both teams played lights out and played their hearts out.”
Favorite finished with 272 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
“Coach told me I had to put the team on my back. I had cramps and he told me I had to just fight through and play. I believed in him and followed my assignments,” Favorite said.
Prior to his tackle-breaking run, West St. John quarterback Austin Howard told his cousin to run hard.
“I told him, he started tie-toeing through the hole. I told him just go. He came back that very next play and scored,” Howard said.
After advancing to the semifinals in a low-scoring, 15-8 win last week over Haynesville, the Rams found themselves in a completely different type of game against Vermilion Catholic.
“I just think we just adapt to every situation possible,” Valdez said. “Last week, we won 15-8 and this week we score 54 points. I kids just keep playing.”
Vermilion Catholic, the No. 2 seed and unbeaten entering the game, was unable to stop Favorite and Howard. Howard finished 12 of 21 passing for 224 yards.
Likewise, the 12-2 Rams were unable to contain David and Jacoby Davis. David. 29 of 35 passing for 342 yards but threw three interceptions. Davis, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 2011, rushed for 64 but added another 93 yards in receptions.
David’s most costly interception came three plays into the fourth quarter.
A snap over the head of the Vermilion punter allowed the Rams to take possession at the Vermilion with the Rams trailing by seven points. On the very first play from scrimmage, Favorite scored from 18 yards out to tie the game at 34-34.
The Eagles were driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown when Lawrence Williams intercepted David in the end zone.
“It took the see-sawing away from the game. It gave us a little leverage. If they score a touchdown there we are playing catch-up,” Valdez said.
The two teams combined for 934 yards of offense. West St. John rolled up 528 yards and Vermilion 406.
West St. John seemed to have the game in hand in the first half with a 21-6 lead but Vermilion Catholic had other ideas.
Moments after a 30-yard run by Favorite put the Rams up by 15, Vermilion countered with a 60-yard drive. Jacoby Davis’ 3-yard run with 1:23 remaining in the first quarter made it 21-13.
An Eagles recovery of a Favorite fumble on the ensuing possession gave the ball right back to Vermilion Catholic at the West St. John 26. Two plays later, a 27-yard strike from David to Davis pulled the Eagles to within 21-10.
West St. John stretched its advantage to 27-20 on a 67-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jarius Moll.
Vermilion tied the game 27-27 with 55 seconds left in the half on a 36-yard pass from David to Dustin Desormeaux to set the stage for and equally wild second half.