Brandon Walters can give you the short and long versions of West St. John’s dramatic, last-second 24-23 triumph at Logansport last week in the Class 1A quarterfinals.
“It was one for the ages,” said Walters.
That’s the short version.
The longer version involves the Rams rallying from a 17-point deficit early in the fourth quarter with a clutch final drive led by quarterback D’Andre Gaudia and running back Kylan Duhe and culminating in a desperation catch in the end zone by receiver Trenton Grow.
“It was definitely tough when you looking at it up close and going through it,” Walters said. “Being down by 17 and feeling you did all you could, we were right there and it was tough to go through that process. Our kids have a don’t-quit attitude and we were able to push them and motivate them that, ‘hey, we are still in this thing and keep fighting,’ and we were able to pull it out at the end.”
It all came down to one final drive.
“We kind of have the philosophy when the game’s on the line, you have to get the ball to your playmakers and let them make plays. The quarterback, he ran it when he had to and pulled it and made a decision to take off because they (the Logansport defense) were dropping deep in coverage. He took (Gaudia) off when he read that and made some really great decisions with that. Duhe made a really good run to get us down into the red zone and we were tying to isolate Trenton on whoever they put over there and they didn’t give him (the Logansport defender) any help and it was one-on-one and were able to get it to him.”
A bit earlier, West St. John scored to move to within five points at 17-12 but the Tigers quickly extended their lead when Austin Edgar returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown with 7:23 remaining in the game.
“We just didn’t have the effort we were looking for on that particular play,” Walters said of the kick return. “The guys were right there. We could have tripped and fallen and stopped the guy from running it back. We just ran down and didn’t give the effort we were looking for. Unfortunately, you can lose games like that. It put us in a bad position but we were still able to get out of there. It just made it harder. When it was 17-12, we were like, ‘if we get another stop, then we can get back in and then put it away.’ That kickback, by a kid that normally doesn’t them back, anyway, it was tough, to say the least.”
West St. John’s heroics earn the Rams another long road trip to north Louisiana when fifth-seeded WSJ plays at No. 1 seed Oak Grove in the semifinals on Friday night.
If ever there was a team that knows how to play on the road, it’s West St. John. The Rams played seven of nine regular-season games on the road this season. Last week saw WSJ take a long playoff road trip and Walters said he learned a thing or two in preparing for the trek.
“It’s tough, just the logistics of it and having to organize it again back-to-back. I have some practice, though, so I know some of the dos and don’ts from what we did last week that we won’t do this week,” said Walters.
Much of the concerns, the West St. John coach said, has to do with time organization.
“Certain things we have to accomplish within a frame of time, we have to make sure we get them taken care of. I guess I have this thing about being at the field at a certain time. I want them to feel as if we are at home,” Walters said. “Some kids require more time to themselves and all that and if you take away those windows from them, it can throw off everything else with the schedule.
“We had a whole bunch of people traveling with us – fans – and they all came with us on that trip. It was kind of tough to deal with all of that. Sometimes, it’s not just all football. We need to make sure we do the things we need to do and make sure everything is correct.”
Along with logistics, dealing with the elements also could be a major concern for the Rams on Friday.
Oak Grove’s field was a torn-up, muddy mess in last week’s 14-8 win over Oberlin.
“I spoke to (Oak Grove coach) and he swears that he would take care of it and get out there and put some dirt down, but basically, we will be playing on dirt and not grass, which is also a problem. I’m concerned about the safety of my kids,” said Walters.
“The coach and I are friends,” Walters continued. “I would rather play somewhere where the conditions aren’t detrimental to either one of us. You want the most optimal situation for both of our teams.”
Most of West St. John’s games have been on turf, but the Rams continue to work out on their grass practice field to get a feel for the different conditions.
“We have a practice field and we get on it a lot, especially during the playoffs. If it’s rainy or muddy, we definitely go in there looking for it. We practice in those conditions with our kids, anyway,” said Walters.
Both teams like to run the ball, so the sloppy conditions shouldn’t give either team a disadvantage, according to Walters.
“It helps a running team. We are a running team and they are a running team, but it’s bad to be in those conditions because there is so much on the line to even have that be a factor,” the West St. John coach said.
Oak Grove runs a triple-option offense with running back Otis Moore lined up deep in the backfield.
“They line him up there north Louisiana style, about 10 yards deep in the backfield and they let him come downhill in either direction,” Walters said. “They show you different formations from double tight, to single tight end formations, split receivers, two, sometimes, maybe three, but they are in the I-formation and that’s what they are running.”
Fullback Wyatt Rawls also gets his share of carries.
The offense is directed by quarterback Kameron Holloway.
“He can run it, he’ll pull it. He does that veer option, they run that a lot. He’s faking the drive, giving the dive, pitching it or keeping it himself, that’s their bread and butter. He’s a good runner and can take it to the house,” said Walters.
When Oak Grove throws it, Holloway’s main targets are Dante Anderson and Bud Holloway. Bud Holloway is a lot receiver who often is in motion.
The Oak Grove tight ends are Dalton Allen and Reid Milligan.
“Once every two years they will play-action it to the tight ends but they don’t throw the ball a lot,” Walters joked. “They used them more in the scheme for blocking.”
Oak Grove generally plays with three down linemen on defense, according to Walters.
They run a 3-4 look and drop a lot of coverage. They drop seven-man and some eight-man coverages when they are sending three down. Sometimes they will crowd the box a little bit to try and help the defensive line a little bit but that’s not what they do,” the West St. John coach explained.
Anchoring the front is 6-foot-4, 315-pound junior Calzarian Hale.
“Calzarian Hale is a big presence on that defensive line. We have to make sure we get him blocked,” said Walters.
Ladarious Ward, who plays cornerback and free safety, is one of Oak Grove’s top defenders.
Also in the secondary are Moore and Ron Craten. Like Moore, Craten also sees action on both sides of the ball.
A win over Oak Groves would put the defending champion Rams in the Superdome for the second year in a row.
“I think our kids understand that if we do what we need to do one more time, we will be back in the ‘Big Dance.’ Whatever happens from there, happens, but we’re not looking ahead. We are treating Oak Grove as if this is the state championship and there is no tomorrow if you don’t take care of business today,” said Walters.