The script heading into the final game of the 2020 regular season couldn’t have been written much better.
St. James, the defending Class 3A state champions, goes into its game at 7 p.m. Friday night against visiting E.D. White 3-1 in District 9-3A play and 5-2 overall. The Cardinals are 4-0 in league play and 6-1 overall.
That means the district title is on the line.
“We tell the guys that where we are as a program, we have two goals – win district and win the state championship,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said. “We had the hiccup early in the season with Donaldsonville, but I think right now the guys are really playing well.
“They (the Cardinals) will be ready to play. I’m sure they will want to finish the season as undefeated district champs. The good thing is they have to come down to beautiful downtown Vacherie and it will be rocking and rolling here.”
E.D. White’s success this season has come as the Cardinals have returned to their roots of playing triple-option offense.
“They still have variables of the Wing-T that they employ, and their receiver is always open. Every time you look off their bootlegs or play-action, those guys are always open. It’s very important for our guys to play assignment football, to be able to ready their keys, and be in position to make play,” Valdez explained.
Senior quarterback Cailun Griggs seems well suited for the offense, according to Valdez.
“He’s does a phenomenal job,” the St. James coach said. “They go as he goes. The thing that he does well is he does a really good job of carrying out the fakes on the plays. He will hand it off and sprint. He does the little things well, which is very refreshing to see.”
In the backfield with Griggs are a pair of senior running backs in Hunter Becnel and Branton Vicknair.
“Hunter is more or less the dive back. He’s the trap guy and the counter dive. Vicknair is more or less the pitch guy. He’s the lead iso guy. They bring a little bit of different things to the table,” said Valdez.
The top receiving threat for E.D. White is Christian Hildenbrand.
“The thing with him is he wants the ball more. You can look at him and he gets up when they throw the ball deep. He sells the blocking very well. You can’t fall asleep on him on the deep ball because he will go up and get it,” Valdez said of Hildenbrand.
Joining Hildenbrand at receiver is Grant Blouin.
“Those guys are blockers first,” Valdez said of the EDW receivers. “The runs they break is because the receivers do such a good job of blocking. They take a lot of pride in blocking.”
As usual, the Cardinals have good blockers along the offensive line.
“They are big and scrappy. They get off the ball real well. They are ‘ankle-eaters’ – you have to tie your shoe a little bit tight. You will get cut all over the field. They will fly off the ball,” said Valdez.
With so few teams playing the triple-option, Friday’s game will provide a unique challenge for the Wildcats, according to their coach.
“It really makes your kids have to lock in,” Valdez said. “We get the moniker here that we have ‘athletes’ at St. James High School. These ‘athletes’ will have to play assignment-sound football and know their keys and understand to know how to tackle. I’m excited to see how we will handle that type of challenge.”
Based out of a 4-2-5 alignment, the Cardinals feature several stout defensive linemen, according to Valdez, among them Caleb Hagen and William Blouin.
“Hagen goes both ways. Braxton Comeaux and Aidan Clements on the defensive line are strong, aggressive guys that can move,” said Valdez.
Behind them are senior linebackers Holden Tabor and Jackson Landry.
“They are not easy to push around,” Valdez said.
The contest, said Valdez, should boil down to the line of scrimmage.
“They want to sustain their drives and keep our offense off the field, so we have to control the line of scrimmage. We have to be able to maintain our balance. We have to throw against them because I think they will give us throwing lanes and then run the ball when we can,” the St. James coach said.