St. James was oh so close to pulling off a miracle finish last week against De La Salle.
The Wildcats trailed 21-6 with less than three minutes left in the game and pulled to within 21-19 and was within a two-point conversion of sending the game to overtime. St. James was off the mark and ultimately loss the contest.
They might have won something else.
“We challenged our kids to compete and play their best. That’s one thing I’m sad about. I’m sad about that we competed and played hard and played four quarters and tried to get to the fifth quarter,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said.
The game was stark contrast to a 63-7 Wildcats loss to De La Salle a year ago.
Getting much closer this time around, Valdez harkened back to an earlier time in St. James history.
“Traditionally, St. James has always risen to that. Years back, it was John Curtis and they used to be rivals and all that and they couldn’t quite beat John Curtis – and then they did. We came close, but there are no moral victories. I don’t do moral victories – some people do – but to validate the direction of our program, we have to play those type of games against those type of teams and then put ourselves in a position to compete. The biggest thing now is you can’t go backwards,” the St. James coach said.
St. James, 5-3 overall and 2-1 in district play is no longer ranked in the Top 10 in Class 3A but is fourth in the power rankings.
Instead of playing a perennial power like De La Salle next week, the Wildcats now take on a Lusher team that is 1-7 overall and 2-3 in district play.
Despite Lusher not being on the same level as a De La Salle, the process needs to remain the game as the Wildcats prepare for the Lions, according to Valdez.
“I think our coaches do a good job, and I think we convey the message of being able to trust the process. We have a word of the week and this week’s word is ‘pride,’ – it’s to be able to do what you are supposed to do when no one is watching,” the St. James coach said.
This late in the season, Valdez said, every game is important when factoring in potential playoff seeding.
“We are channeling our kids to understand that now every week is so important because we are jockeying for position,” he said. “We are trying to get ourselves in pretty good position.
“Lusher is the next one up. The work ethic doesn’t stop and the preparation doesn’t stop and you just have to get after it.”
St. James has experience taking on a team with a less than stellar record. Two weeks ago, the Wildcats put away a one-win Haynes team 43-7.
“You have to try to understand that to try and keep the momentum going and just come in here at the beginning, force your will and establish your presence and try to get the game under control so you can start to look at some basic things. You try your best to do what you do and you try to work your craft. I don’t believe in blowing people out or whatever, I believe in trying to get better,” said Valdez.
The Lions have been without perhaps their best offensive player in running back Miles Stewart.
“I don’t know if he is back. He definitely affects what they do on offense,” Valdez said. “Since he has been gone, they have thrown the ball a lot more.”
The Lions quarterback is sophomore Arnold Little.
“He throws the ball quick. He throws a good ball. They do tend to get pressure on him a lot but they trust him to throw the ball,” Valdez said.
One of his main targets is receiver Chad Britton, who also is a return specialist.
“He’s probably their go-to guy. They go deep. They launch it and try to get the one-on-one matchups,” Valdez said.
St. James is in the middle of a three-game stretch to close the season in which the Wildcats face three teams with different offensive styles.
“It’s a different contrast from last week to De La Salle and then playing Lusher, which will be a wide-open spread attack and next week you have to go pro-style (against St. Charles). It test you a little bit in your preparation,” said Valdez.
The Lions play a 4-2-5 defense and like to keep everything in front of them, according to Valdez.
“Other than a couple of defensive linemen, they are not going to be the most physical guys, but they play hard. You can see on film they hustling and run to the ball and try to make plays. They are going to attack and send some pressure and they are going to do some blitzing and stuff like that to try and disrupt your blocking schemes to try and give themselves and breaks and some momentum,” he said.
One of those linemen is 6-foot-1, 250-pound none tackle Hayden Boudreaux.
“Hayden Boudreaux is a plugger,” said Valdez.
Another key defender for Lusher is linebacker Chandler Jones.
With Friday night’s game being Homecoming, and with it coming against a struggling team, maintaining focus will be a big key for the Wildcats, according to Valdez.
The longer they stay in the game, the longer they believe they can win and the more dangerous they are going to be. For us, we need to come out, bam, bam, bam. It’s Homecoming. We need to try and eliminate the noise and distractions.”