The 2018 season has been a year of “oh so close,” for the East St. John Wildcats.
Nothing demonstrated that more than East St. John’s 35-34 loss to Destrehan a week ago.
Add the result to 16-14 loss to John McDonogh and a 7-6 defeat at the hands of H.L. Bourgeois and ESJ is oh so close to be being 5-1 on the season. Instead, the Wildcats are 2-4 overall and 1-2 in District 7-5A play.
Meanwhile, the Terrebonne Tigers, East St. John’s opponent on Friday night at Joe Keller Stadium in Reserve, is where the Wildcats want to be.
Terrebonne is having what many observers consider the Tigers’ breakthrough season. The Tigers are 6-0 overall and 2-0 in district play while being rated No. 5 in Class 5A and fourth in the power rankings.
In Week 5, Terrebonne had what some consider a signature win for the program – a 41-0 domination of Hahnville. It was Terrebonne’s first win in 20 years over Hahnville, a team less than a year removed from playing for the Class 5A state championship.
If Terrebonne’s triumph over Hahnville was a program win for the Tigers, what would a victory by East St. John mean for East St. John?
“For us to go in and beat Terrebonne with the excellent start they’ve had, it would mean a lot to us,” East St. John coach Brandon Brown said. “At this point, we have talked to our guys about their window of opportunity closing on us fast when you talk about power rankings, you talk about playoff aspirations.
“We need this win to jump right back in there when you talk about playoffs and power rankings.”
The first-year Wildcats coach said his team should not have a hangover after last week’s loss to Destrehan in which ESJ was a blocked extra point from going to overtime.
“One of the good things was I was pleased with our kids’ attitude. After a loss like that, they understood we were playing against a good team. This week in practice has been excellent. The attitude has been there because they know they couldn’t cry over it because a team like Terrebonne coming on who is just as good,” Brown said.
In order to defeat Terrebonne, the Wildcats will have to compete with a trio of Tigers who have haunted opposing defenses all season.
One of those players is Ja’khi Douglas. Basically the Tigers’ quarterback, Douglas can line up anywhere on the field.
“He’s a dynamic kid,” Brown said of Douglas. “Everything he does, he does well. He runs the ball well. He can throw the ball well. They put him out at receiver and he catches the ball well. He returns kicks well.
“The coach (Terrebonne’s Gary Hill) does a good job of using him. They get him in space and move him around in different positions. It’s kind of hard to get a read on what they are trying to do because they do so much with those great athletes they have over there.”
Another of Terrebonne’s versatile athletes is Keshawn James.
“I saw him lined up at receiver, at quarterback and at running back. He just does a lot for their program. They are really blessed with the type of talent they have right now,” said Brown.
The other big offensive threat is bruising runner Chaz Ward, who has topped 800 yards rushing through six games.
“Just trying to slow down their offense will be a challenge for us, but I think our guys will be up for the challenge. When you just faced a team with the likes of John Emery (of Destrehan), I think our kids understand what it takes,” Brown said.
The Tigers are based out of a 3-3 Stack on defense.
“Pressure, pressure, pressure when you think about their defense. Those guys bring a lot of pressure. They are very aggressive. When they get there, they bring a powerful punch,” Brown said.
One of the players who caught the eye of Brown is 6-foot-4, 275-pound nose tackle Maason Smith.
“He moves well and plays very aggressive,” Brown said of Smith.
Another top defender is linebacker Cullen Butler.
“He runs like a defensive back and hits like a linebacker. He’s one of the better defensive players we’ve seen all year,” Brown said of Butler.
At 2-4, the Wildcats, Brown said, realize the importance of Friday’s game.
“I think our kids will play an excellent game knowing that it’s all or nothing at this point. We have to finish out and finish strong. We are excited about it. I look for our kids to come out with a lot of passion,” the East St. John coach said.