Before you could count to 10, Robert Valdez was on his way to being 5-0 in the Railroad Classic and the St. James Wildcats won their third game in a row in the series in a 43-0 domination of visiting nearby rival West St. John on Friday night.
“I think it’s a great game for the community. I happy and excited. I’m really happy because this is a young group of kids and I’m excited how they played,” Valdez said.
Tai’Rhys Smith’s interception of a D’Andre Gaudia pass on the first play of the game led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shamar Smith to She’n Joseph four plays and a quick 7-0 Wildcats lead.
“Well, it was intended for Dontaz Sterling and he (Joseph) just came across and he scored,” Smith revealed.
The ensuing kickoff was short and the West St. John return man let the ball bounce, with Brad Batiste recovering, giving St. James the ball at the Rams’ 23.
Four plays later, the St. James quarterback scored on a 15-yard keeper and St. James had a 14-0 lead a little more than two minutes into the game.
“When I stepped up in the pocket and I saw daylight, I just took off,” said Smith, who rushed for 151 yards and almost singlehandedly outpaced the entire West St. John team in total offense.
The Wildcats, behind a stout defense, a big-play special teams unit, and an opportunistic offense, continued to pour it on and led 40-0 at halftime.
“We talk about EAT – effort, attitude and tempo and I think the tempo we had tonight was real fast. The guys really paid attention to their assignments and we had a really good rush. We knew we had to stop the run and we were very opportunistic when we got pressure on the quarterback,” said Valdez.
St. James punter Alec Mahler kicked the ball into the end zone on the Wildcats’ next possession following Smith’s touchdown run, trying to pin the Rams deep in their own territory.
Facing a similar situation with a fourth-and-8 from the WSJ 37, Mahler took off with the ball and raced to the Rams’ 5-yard line.
“I think we saw a little something in there and he had a check on it. I don’t know if I’m crazy to give a sophomore an opportunity to check out of that. He saw they tried to set up a return and he took it” Valdez said.
After a penalty against St. James, Dontaz Sterling scampered 7 yards to make it 21-0 with two minutes still remaining in the first quarter.
Sterling’s touchdown made amends for a personal-foul penalty that almost halted the drive.
“I told him, ‘you can’t let the emotions get the best of you,’” Valdez said.
West St. John finally mounted a drive, crossing midfield for the first time – but as was the Rams’ fate throughout the game, a Gaudia pass was picked off by St. James’ Arum Joseph, who raced 70 yards to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 27-0.
“We just let it get away,” a dejected West St. John coach Brandon Walters said after the game. “There is no excuse for it. Nothing at all. We did not play the way we should have played. We made way too many mistakes, too many miscues. Everything went wrong.”
A 66-yard run by Smith and a 24-yard score by Sterling made it 40-0 with 5:19 remaining in the half.
“I was looking for a pass route and when I saw all the players out. I just saw open land,” Smith said of his long run.
The woes continued for West St. John. The Rams made a late charge and seemed poised to score right before halftime.
On a fourth-and-1 from the St. James 4-yard line, Niko Roy was hit in the backfield on a well-timed blitz by SJH as the Wildcats took a 40-0 lead to the locker room.
“We didn’t do anything right. Tackling, blocking, none of that. Just poor execution. We just stunk it up. There is nothing else to say about it. There are no excuses,” said Walters.
Much of the Rams’ success on the ground came from Kylan Duhe. The senior running back rushed for 133 yards on 21 carries. WSJ was limited to 162 yards of total offense. Gaudia was 0 for 4 passing with two interceptions.
The only points in the second half came on a 39-yard field goal by Mahler on the Wildcats’ second possession of the third quarter.
St. James had reached the 11-yard line on its opening drive of the second half but Antoine Jackson fumbled at the 1-yard line to keep the Wildcats out of the end zone.
The game was played with a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t do anything right,” Walters lamented. “Tackling, blocking, none of that. Just poor execution. We just stunk it up. There is nothing else to say about it. There are no excuses.”