Written by Kyle Valdez
According to multiple sports writers and coaches, many people expected the highlighted week 2 matchup between the St. James Wildcats and East St. John Wildcats to be a highly contested match. The game in Vacherie was the featured game of the week across multiple media outlets and included more than 10 players to have received at least one D1 offer. After all, both teams entered the game with a 1-0 record, beating their week 1 opponent by more than four touchdowns. Despite the hype for both teams, St. James proved to be the superior team by jumping out to a 23-0 lead and cruising the rest of the way.
The St. James defense stayed in control from the opening drive of the game. At the 10:47 mark in the first quarter, St. James junior Kaleb Brown forced a fumble, giving the offense the ball at the ESJ 36-yard line. The St. James offense scored their first touchdown after senior QB Shamar Smith (top offers include Air Force, Colorado, Houston, Navy, Memphis, and Tulane) ran the ball for a 10-yard gain to place the ball inside the one-yard line, followed by a keeper for the score.
The first half consisted of many turnovers by both teams. A fumble recovered by St. James late in the first quarter, an interception by St. James junior Keshawn Coleman, and a clutch pick by East St. John junior Travis Turner in the endzone. Amid the loose play with the ball, only St. James took advantage of the opposition’s mistakes.
Last week, St. James allowed zero points against West St. John, and continued the tight defense early in the first half this week. When asked about the St. James defense, senior safety Tyler Steib (offer from UTSA) said, “Forcing turnovers has been a big thing. We got four great defensive linemen and they rush the ball real fast. They get to the quarterback, and they either force turnovers, force fumbles, or force interceptions.”
After the Coleman interception, St. James marched down the field for a six play, 46-yard drive to take a 15-0 lead with 6:59 left in the half. The touchdown was completed by Shamar Smith to sophomore receiver Shazz Preston (2nd ranked player in Louisiana class of 2022, top offers include LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi St, and Colorado) for seven yards. The next drive, East St. John was quickly put into a 4th-and-19 just 58 seconds into their drive. Setting up to punt from their own endzone, the snap was too low for the punter and trickled into the endzone giving the home Wildcats two points for the safety. Before the half concluded, each team scored a touchdown, giving St. James a 23-7 lead at halftime
The second half of play was dry for both teams. The defenses went to work, while the offenses severely struggled to put any points on the scoreboard. The only scores included a Shamar Smith two-yard run in the early stages of the 3rd quarter and an East St. John touchdown with 18 seconds remaining in the game.
Coming off a 47-7 win against West Jefferson last week, the hype for the 2019 Wildcats could have picked up some serious steam with a statement win over St. James. But nothing went right for ESJ all night. Maybe it was the much improved and suffocating St. James defense. Whatever the case, the offense found no rhythm from the start. They were penalized 12 times for 90 yards. They turned the ball over three times and gave St. James great field position too often. Although they ended up allowing 30 points, the defense was very respectable for most of the night; they forced a few turnovers and the offense’s turnovers didn’t make it any easier. Looking forward to their week 3 game, East St. John has a very good opportunity to hop back in the win column and gain some much-needed confidence against Sophie B. Wright on the road.
Heading into the game, St. James knew what they had to do. Shamar Smith described the team’s mindset, “We knew it was going to be a tough game, so it was just about discipline. We knew it’s a rivalry game and we hadn’t played them in a while, so we just wanted to play through this and do the small things to win.”
The statement win solidifies St. James as the favorite to win District 9-3A and possibly title favorites in Class 3A. Their offense looked great; Shamar Smith balled out, totaling 227 yards for one passing and three rushing touchdowns. Both sides of the ball were disciplined, resulting in just 3 penalties for 45 yards. Head Coach Robert Valdez discussed his team’s performance, “This is a program validated win, when you’re able to step up a class like that and be able to get a win. Just so proud of our kids, we work hard and it’s good to see them having a good time... We still have some things we need to correct. We had some turnovers ourselves, but we’ll get back into film, study and break it down, and try to get better.” Next week, St. James travels on the road to face Riverdale High before their huge week 4 home matchup against Destrehan.
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