St. Charles Catholic’s season-opening game at home against Vandebilt Catholic on Friday was an emotional outing for both teams.
The Comets were playing their first game of the season following Hurricane Isaac’s destructive flood waters inundated Laplace and all of St. John Parish while Vandebilt quarterback Elijah McGuire seemed to be on a personal quest.
A year ago, McGuire’s season came to an end in a Week 2 loss to the eventual state champion Comets when the quarterback suffered a broken toe.
McGuire rushed for 378 yards and five touchdowns and the Terriers needed each yard and score for a 36-33 win over St. Charles.
“Coming back against these guys, I thought I had to go all-out because it is my last year and I will never play high school football again in my life,” McGuire said.
Of all of McGuire’s scores, none was bigger than his final one.
After falling behind 33-29 when a McGuire fumble was scooped up by Dante Scarpero for a 40-yard touchdown, the Terriers got the ball back at their own 31-yard line with 3:10 left in the game.
Following a 1-yard run by Aaron Smith, McGuire kept the ball for gains of 6 and 5 yards. Expecting another McGuire run, the Comets secondary allowed Thomas St. Martin to get wide open on a 35-yard toss from the Vandy quarterback down to the 22. Two plays later, McGuire sprinted to his left and tight-roped the sideline in front of the SCC bench for a 20-yard touchdown and a 36-33 Terriers lead with 1:04 left in the contest.
“It was a sprint-out to the left. The play is designed for (a pass or run) and if nobody is open, Coach (Brad Villavaso) told me to run the ball. We ran it all week in practice and it finally paid off,” McGuire said.
“Elijah is a special player. We are asking too much of him, though. We have to do some things to take a little bit of the load off of him,” Villavaso said. “We challenged him about midway through the game. He was tired and accepted the challenge. What an effort out of that kid.”
On the first play following the ensuing kickoff Jemal Batiste hit Chad McNeil on a 26-yard toss, but the Comets receiver fumbled the ball, with Jessie Martin recovering to seal the win for Vandebilt.
Despite McGuire’s one-man show, the Comets were in the game until the very end by coming up with plays such as Scarpero’s fumble return.
Still, St. Charles coach Frank Monica was far from pleased with his team’s effort.
“I think our kids quit. I think they didn’t play hard. I was disappointed in their character. I think they were in horrible shape. All of that is my fault. They have been practicing for that the last couple of weeks. Right now, we are not a very good football team,” Monica said.
Trailing 16-14 at halftime, the Comets found success in the third quarter by going to the Wildcat formation with sophomore running back Erron Lewis taking direct snaps from center. Two plays following Scarpero’s interception of a McGuire pass, Lewis scored on a 33-yard run out of the Wildcat to give SCC its first lead of the game at 20-16.
The lead was short-lived for the Comets as McGuire broke loose on a 74-yard scamper to put Vandy back on top 22-20.
St. Charles seemed headed for the lead once again four plays later when Lewis broke loose on first-and-10 from the Vandy 48. The running back raced down to the 1-yard line when he was stripped of the ball by Terrier strong safety Jordan Bergeron, with Vandebilt taking possession.
Vandy built its lead to as much as 29-20 before St. Charles scored twice in a span of a minute on a 3-yard run by Brandon Zimmer and Scarpero’s fumble return before McGuire closed out the game in the final moments.
The defeat was the first loss for the Comets after a 15-0 title run a year ago. Despite a new cast of players, St. Charles holds the mantle of defending state champion, so a win is a major victory for any opponent.
“Coach Monica will have a good football team. He’s always had a really good football team. We played them last year when they had better football players than they are playing with right now. They are really, really young. It’s hard to come here and win. This team, the Comets, they will be in the playoffs and go deep,” Villavaso said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they win another one because he hates to lose.”
McGuire put on a show starting in the first half but several a key play from each of St. Charles Catholic’s defense, special teams and offense allowed the Terriers to trail only 16-14 at halftime.
McGuire ran all over the Comets’ defense in the first half, rushing for 188 yards on 16 carries, while scoring on runs of 60 and 39 yards.
McGuire’s 39-yard run gave Vandebilt a 16-0 lead with 41 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Comets, who were limited to 46 yards in the first quarter, used a 56-yard run by Mario Young to help set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Zimmer to put SCC back in the game at 16-7 at the 9:08 mark of the second quarter.
The first big moment for the St. Charles defense was actually a sequence of plays. The Terriers appeared on their way to countering the Comets’ score with a drive of their own to extend the Vandebilt lead. The Terriers faced first-and-goal at the SCC 3-yard line. A pair of carries by Gage Corte produced 2 yards. After McGuire was held to no gain, a false start against the Terriers backed up Vandy by 5 yards on a field goal attempt. Grant Rodriguez’s rushed 23-yard field goal attempt was wide left, leaving the Comets down by nine points.
Vandebilt faced a fourth-and-1 at its own 49 in the closing seconds of the first half. The Comets blocked Rodriguez’s punt, giving St. Charles the ball at the Terriers’ 38 with nine seconds left in the second quarter.
On the final play of the first half, Batiste hit McNeil with a 38-yard strike to make it 16-14 at the break.
With Vandebilt being located in Houma, the Terriers are no strangers to the wrath of hurricanes and the importance of just being able to play after a storm was something Villavaso could relate to.
“It was important for them to play this game. The tragedy they experienced, they never foresaw anything like that happening to them. We feel for the families. For those guys to battle the way they battled and having a chance to win the game at any moment, to lay those things aside and thing about Friday night football, I think it brings the community together,” said Villavaso, whose school made a financial contribution to St. Charles.