When St. James finally took full advantage of numerous West St. John mistakes, the Wildcats quickly put the game away late in the first half.
St. James led only 7-0 with less than four minutes remaining in the second quarter before taking advantage of two West St. John turnovers to score three times to lead 28-0 at halftime on the Wildcats’ way to a 28-8 win over the Rams on Friday night in Edgard.
“We had some miscues and opportunities before that. We just have to get better. We did what we had to do when we had the opportunities but you have to make those plays,” West St. John coach Robert Valdez said.
“We can’t turn over the ball. We have to secure it. Without those turnovers, who knows how it would turned out tonight. They made mistakes. We made mistakes, but they just executed off of our mistakes. That’s the difference,” West St. John coach Brandon Walters said.
The win allowed St. James to retain the Railroad Classic trophy while Valdez – a one-time West St. John coach – move his personal record to 6-0 with the trophy on the line.
“It’s good to have it. It’s good to be there,” Valdez said.
The big play of the drive was a 32-yard run by Smith, who ran up the middle and broke to his right along the West St. John bench. As Smith ran out of bounds, he was hit by a West St. John defender, adding another 15 yards down to the WSJ 20.
Smith ran out of his shoe and into the end zone three plays later for St. James’ 14-0 lead.
“At first, we started off slow so we had to do something to pick up our momentum. Other than that, you just have to do the small things. Small things normally help you win the game,” said Smith.
Two plays into West St. John’s next possession, an interception by J’Kory Ester of and errant throw by Rams quarterback D’Andre Gaudia gave St. James the ball at the WSJ 33. After a penalty, Shen Joseph hauled in a pass from Smith at the goal line from 38 yards out while surrounded by four defenders to make it 21-0 at the 2:46 mark of the second quarter.
“I squeezed it in there but it was a great catch. He focused on the ball,” said Smith, referring to Joseph. “You just have to trust your receivers and trust in the process.”
St. James forced a Rams punt from the 10-yard line, getting the after a shank at the West St. John 14.
Sean Lebeouf scored on a 4-yard run with 52 seconds left in the second quarter for a 28-0 lead at the half.
“We can’t walk out here with our heads hanging down. We definitely have to work a little better and right the ship and correct the mistakes and execute. That’s it.”
Until the final four minutes, the only points of the first half came on a 20-yard scoop-and-score by return for a touchdown by Chase Geason following a Gaudia fumble at the 6:05 mark of the first quarter.
“I saw the ball, I picked it up and I wanted to score. Before the game, I told my teammates I was going to get a touchdown and I had to live up to my word,” Geason said.
“Sometimes when your offense is not really clicking, you need your defense and special teams, You block a punt and scoop-and-score. All those facets have to come in handy. When one is not clicking, you have to lean on the other,” said Valdez.
St. James missed out on scoring on an earlier West St. John mistake when Alec Mahler missed a 36-yard field goal before a blocked punt by St. James’ Tyler Steib gave the Wildcats the ball at the West St. John 14.
The St. James defense constantly put pressure on Gaudia and never allowed the Rams to establish a running game or sustain drives.
“We knew that our defense has some guys that can play. That’s what we are going to hang our hat on. Not giving (Gaudia) an opportunity to set his feet and find his athletic receivers was part of the plan,” Valdez said.
“We always play with energy and we always think we have the No. 1 ‘D’ in the state, so we have to live up to it,” said Geason.
West St. John avoided the shutout on a 7-yard pass from Gaudia to Aaron Moll and a two-point conversion to account for the 28-8 final.