The St. James Wildcats got past the rivalry trio of West St. John, Lutcher and E.D. White in good shape with a win over visiting Wossman last week to run their record to 3-1 on the season.
Still, there were some concerns early in a battle of Wildcats.
“They take the opening kickoff back for a touchdown and I’m on the sideline, ‘Oh, Lord, here we go.’ I’m just proud of the coaches and players in how we were able to bounce back and how we were able maintain our composure,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said.
St. James, ranked No. 7 in Class 3A, bounced back to the tune of a 45-28 triumph over a physically larger team by taking advantage of its team speed.
“I always get concerned when we play bigger teams because that’s not our specialty. We’re not big. Just the fact we were able to go in there and play tough defense and run the ball solidly, I was very excited about that,” Valdez said.
The size disadvantage will be even greater when the Wildcats travel to “The Pit” to take on St. Amant (3-1) on Friday night.
The most eye-catching physical specimen for the Gators is Beau Gremillion, a 6-foot-3, 340-pound senior center.
“The biggest thing with him is you just have to be able to get some type of leverage on him,” Valdez said of Gremillion.
Friday’s game against Gremillion and his fellow large offensive and defensive line mates will be a stern test for St. James, but one the Wildcats welcome.
“Going into district, this is a great test for us. It’s a great opportunity for us just to see how we stack up against a much bigger, much deep team. When we get to district, the numbers balance off a little bit. Containing their offense and being able to stop their run game is big,” Valdez said.
Gremillion and the Gators’ offensive line provide a solid wall of protection while opening up gaping holes for running back K.J. Franklin and quarterback Kaleb Thompson.
“It’s another situation where they are going to want to run the football with K.J. Franklin, and Kaleb Thompson, the quarterback. They are very athletic guys that do a lot of the spread zone read RPO (run pass option) type of stuff and try to get you out of position,” Valdez explained.
Valdez singled out the play of Thompson as one of the key Gators on offense.
“The quarterback, to me, is very impressive. He plays the game and he fits their scheme,” said Valdez.
The Gators also us Lathan Bourgeois at quarterback.
“He’s more like the play-action type of guy,” Valdez pointed out.
Franklin is an all-everything type for St. Amant.
“He plays all over,” said Valdez. “He’s a jet sweep guy. He plays defense. He’s also a kick returner.
“You have to be able to contain him and know where he is at all times. If you don’t know where he is, he’s going to victimize you. He’s probably their most prolific offensive weapon.”
He’s not too shabby in the defensive secondary, either.
“Defensively, he’s very, very savvy and plays the game the right way,” Valdez said.
Noah Hebert is the H-back for the Gators, and like Franklin, also plays on defense as a linebacker.
“He’s a big, thick bruiser type of kid. The H-back in their offense is more like a tight end. They give him a bone every once in a while but he’s there to block,” said Valdez.
Three big guys up front defensively are Johnny Johnson, Jamir Baptiste and Zacheus Thomas.
The Gators are based out of a three-man front but will go to a 4-2-5 alignment.
“They will bring in Reece Nelson as a rush end. He plays linebacker but they will rush him,” Valdez explained.
Other top defenders including run-plugging inside linebacker Aaron Delaune, defensive back Jordan Bennett and up-and-coming free safety Javin Augillard.
As much as any strategy on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, Valdez said he wants to see how his team handles their surroundings on Friday night.
“Going in there, I want to see how my kids respond to the atmosphere,” the St. James coach said. “There is a real good atmosphere at ‘The Pit.’ I want to see how my kids handle all that and still be able to maintain the game plan and composure and all that.
“We have been showing signs of improvement and now we have to carry that on the road. I don’t call Lutcher a road game. West St. John and Lutcher are almost like home games. E.D. White was our first away game and this is like a second away game because it will be totally foreign to us. We just have to get in there and handle the atmosphere and just play ball. I think those guys have a chip on their shoulders. They lost to Lutcher last week and they don’t want to lose two weeks in a row.”