When West St. John and St. James meet each other there is rarely a need for additional motivation with all that is at stake in the season opener.
The Rams may have found one.
West St. John lost the game dubbed the Railroad Classic 43-0 last year to the Wildcats. The result was very much atypical of the hotly-contested rivalry.
A Tai’Rhys Smith interception of a D’Andre Gaudia pass on the first play of the game led to a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Shamar Smith to She’n Joseph four plays and a quick 7-0 Wildcats lead in last season’s game.
The ensuing kickoff was short and the West St. John return man let the ball bounce, with Brad Batiste recovering, giving St. James the ball at the Rams’ 23. Four plays later, the St. James quarterback scored on a 15-yard keeper and St. James had a 14-0 lead a little more than two minutes into the game.
The Wildcats built 40-0 halftime lead on their way to the 43-0 triumph.
This year the guys are hungry and have a bad taste in their mouths from last year and what took place. It definitely got away from us. The year before that, we thought we had them on the ropes and let it slip away,” West St. James coach Brandon Walters said.
Walters was referring to the 2017 game which was much more typical of the tight games played between West St. John and St. James. The Rams led 27-6 at one point before the Wildcats roared back late for a 36-33 game.
“We just have to get out this year and show the improvement. We just want to get out there, and hopefully, our guys will fight and sustain what we are trying to do until the very end,” said Walters.
Friday’s game will be live streamed on VSN Louisiana. Justin Duhe will handle play by play with color commentary by Terrence Jones.
In St. James, the Rams will be facing an opponent with offensive weapons all over the field.
Directing the offense is versatile senior quarterback Shamar Smith.
“Shamar Smith makes it go. You have to account for him. He can beat you with his arm and he can beat you with his feet and he has a good group of guys that he can spread the ball around to them and get the ball in their hands,” Walters said.
Among the group are receivers Tyler Steib, Shen Joseph, Shazz Preston and Logan Gravois.
“They make you cover the entire field. It makes for a long week of work on that defensive practice. We will get out there and be prepared. Our kids will know where to go and low to line up. We just have to make sure our guys are in the right place to make the right play,” said Walters.
Joining Smith in the backfield is senior running back Sean Lebeouf.
“Sean Lebeouf is also a good kid. We are very familiar with him. He’s had some good games against us. Between those two guys, we have to get them corralled and make sure we defend well against the pass,” said Walters, referring to Lebeouf and Smith.
The Wildcats feature a spread offense.
“You have to account for it,” Walters said. “They will throw you a lot of trips and they are going to get you to line up in space and the quarterback is going to take off with it when he can. A lot of times they like to get you in space and run the ball. They want to get you out of the box.
“It’s definitely a chess match in what we are trying to do and trying to stop and what they look for offensively.”
The Wildcats, ranked No. 2 in the Class 3A poll, also are a challenge on defense, according to Walters.
“Defensively, they will give you multiple fronts, a four-man front and 3-3 Stack. They will send a lot of pressure and try to get in our face with those defenders against the wide receivers and try to be physical with you. They play multiple coverages back there and they blitz a lot out of it,” the West St. John coach explained.
The big guy up front for the Wildcats is 6-foot-5 junior defensive lineman Savion Jones.
“He’s a young guy. He has a motor. He can play really well and gets after the quarterback. He’s all the things you want to ask for in a defensive lineman. We have to account for him and know where he is on the field and get him blocked. We will have our hands full,” said Walters.
Last time West St. John beat St. James was a 12-6 win in 2015 for Walters’ first win as Rams head coach.
Meanwhile, Robert Valdez, the former WSJ coach and current head man at St. James, is a perfect 5-0 since the game became known as the Railroad Classic.
The Rams can come out on top and remove the bad taste from the mouths since last season, Walters said, if the team plays within itself.
“We have to come out there more focused. We have to be better at executing at what we are trying to do. We can’t make those little mistakes and we can’t try to do too much in the beginning. We have to play within the framework of what we are trying to do and let the game develop and come to us,” the West St. John coach said.