Comparing awaiting playoff seedings to the holidays, St. James coach Robert Valdez decided to skip right past Thanksgiving.
“It was sort of like Christmas, waiting to see where you would fall,” the St. James coach said. “We are very grateful to be in the playoffs, especially with everything going on with COVID and stuff like that.
“Being the fifth seed and getting a home game, I think that’s a pretty good seed. At this point in the season, everyone is good. I believe that everyone in the tournament deserves to be there. We will just take it one week at a time.”
As the fifth seed in the Class 3A playoffs, St. James will host No. 28 Abbeville at 7 p.m. Friday in Vacherie in a battle of Wildcats.
Abbeville went 3-4 under first-year coach Roderick Moy after going 1-9 in 2019. The last time Abbeville won more than three games in a season was 2015.
“You them on film and you see those kids play with tremendous energy. On offense, defense, and special teams, you see the flying around,” said Valdez.
Abbeville is an I-formation team that likes to feature the fullback, particularly 5-foot-10, 200-pound freshman Zaylen Williams.
“He’s a load. You talk about (trying to) tackle a guy like that, especially with them running the dive option. They run a freeze option. They run some power plays and isos and things like that. Those guys kind of wear on you as the game goes on,” Valdez said.
Abbeville utilizes Trasean Green as both a tailback and fullback. Brendan Shelvin is more of an outside runner for Abbeville.
Jocorlin Davis is a 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver who also plays defensive back.
“He’s a big target. When you get a guy like that, especially if they are doing very well in the run game, it’s going to be important to make sure you keep your coverage. If you have to have extra bodies to stop the run, then they find the one-on-one matchup,” explained Valdez.
Abbeville’s quarterback is senior Jaidyn O’Brien.
“He’s a very athletic kid. You can definitely see why they put the ball in his hands. He’s very dangerous, especially on the option that they employ,” Valdez said.
Although it was a bit different from Abbeville’s attack, St. James had a chance to face the triple option a week ago in a 31-0 win over E.D. White.
“I think this quarterback is more athletic than the kid we saw last week,” Valdez said. “Their option is a little more perimeter than E.D. White’s. E.D. White was more of that downhill inside. These people can really get to the edge on you real fast.
“It’s similar and it’s good that our kids saw option last week, but I call it a different ‘window’ for us to look at.”
Friday, St. James gets to look at a blitz-heavy Abbeville defense.
“Defensively, they are helter skelter,” said Valdez. “They will blitz you from everywhere. They will blitz you. They will play you man-to-man and they will come after you.
“We have to be able to block those bodies and we have to give our quarterback some time.”
Two of Abbeville’s top defenders are nose guard Marshall Major and middle linebacker Tayla Wright.
“Those two guys put a lot of pressure on you in the middle,” Valdez noted.
The weakside linebacker is Adam Nichols.
“They will send him, too,” said Valdez.
Rashad Cormier is in the defensive secondary along with several of the receivers who also play defensive back.
“They are doing a lot of things with high energy. Teams like that, you have to establish control early. The more you allow these teams, especially coming on the road to stay in the game, the more confidence they will have,” Valdez said.
St. James enters the playoffs as the defending state champions, but that distinction was earned by last year’s team, Valdez stressed.
“I tell these kids that in 2020, they have to write their own script. We enjoyed the ride last year. That was very good, but I tell them to not get caught up in all the ‘defending state champs,’ and all that. We have to go out there every week and earn it,” the St. James coach said.