How close is Springhill, Louisiana, the site of the St. James Wildcats’ second-round Class 3A playoff game against North Webster, to the Arkansas border?
“I think you could throw a rock and hit Arkansas,” said St. James coach Robert Valdez.
It’s not quite that close, but is, in fact, less than five miles from the border.
St. James in the No. 9 seed and will take on North Webster, the No. 8 seed, on Friday night.
“Coming into the season, we knew that we were going to be young and we had a lot of key guys to replace,” Valdez said. “If it takes for us to go to Arkansas to play a game, then we’re going to go. We will prepare and be ready to go.
“At this time of year, you get a renewed type of energy that kicks in. The kids are excited. The program is excited. It gives us a chance to take it on the road.”
The road includes about a six-hour bus trip, not counting a stop along the way.
“We will stop off in Alexandria to eat and stretch their legs. You really have to do a long warmup time (for pregame) just to get the blood flowing after the guys were sitting for so long,” said Valdez.
Along with the long trip, the game against North Webster will be like playing on foreign soil to the Wildcats.
“We are playing on grass, so that will be something different,” Valdez said. “It’s amazing now in 2018 to say you are playing on grass. It used to be that playing on turf (was rare).”
Like St. James, the Knights are 7-4 on the season and riding a four-game winning streak, including a 41-8 playoff-opening triumph over Albany.
“When you look at them on film, they are those gritty, tough guys that play hard. They are not overly big but you can see on film they play hard. They try to press the tempo a little bit to try and make plays,” said Valdez.
The Knights’ spread attack is led by 6-foot-2, 202-pound quarterback Tyrell Markray. He also will line up at running back while also playing at linebacker and in the secondary on defense.
“He another running back in the backfield that you have account for, who also throws the ball well,” Valdez said of Markray.
The other running back is Lorenzo Johnson, who rushed for three touchdowns in North Webster’s win over Albany.
“The one-two punch is with the quarterback and running back. The offensive line does a good job. They run a lot of counter scheme and a lot of misdirection to try to get you running and flowing,” Valdez explained.
The Knights are based out of a 4-2-5 defense.
“They like to come off the edges and confuse you,” Valdez said. “They don’t send the middle linebacker as much but the like to attack you off the edge.
“We have to maintain the line of scrimmage, whether we try to pass the ball or run the ball. We have to play the chains. We can’t just start reaching for plays. When you start reaching for plays, you put your defense on the field longer and longer.”
Top defenders for North Webster include linemen Sam Plants and Keunta Lee.
Tyrell Markray’s cousin, J’quan Markray, and Scottie Johnson play a safety/outside linebacker position for the Knights.
A.J. Crow is one of the cornerbacks for North Webster.
“They like to lock him up man-to-man,” Valdez noted.
As with all football playoffs, it all boils down to a single-elimination tournament.
“You can either be playing or you can either talk about what you will do next year. We choose to be playing,” Valdez said.