In a battle of unbeatens, St. James capitalized on big plays by their defense and special teams en route to a 31-24 victory over the Destrehan Wildcats. St. James jumped out to a 14-0 lead after the first quarter - and a 31-10 lead after the third - to seal the win. Despite a late game scare by Destrehan, the St. James defense proved to be too much.
Despite being evenly matched heading into the game, many anticipated Destrehan to reign supreme in the battle of the Wildcats. St. James QB Shamar Smith mentioned his team’s thoughts going into the game: “A lot of people down talked us, thinking Destrehan was going to beat us. We just had to be disciplined. That’s a good ball program over there, I tip my hat to them... But we just came out with more effort, and we were making plays, being special.”
Shamar Smith (top offers from Air Force, Navy, Colorado, Tulane, Memphis, and Houston) finished the game with 237 yards of total offense and 2 TDs. Escaping sacks and lengthening plays, Smith broke loose for two touchdown runs (51 yards and 10 yards) in the first quarter to give his team a 14-0 lead. After the two scores, the St. James offense went cold for most of the game. Before the conclusion of the first quarter, Destrehan’s Damarius Jackson found Quincy Brown (6th ranked player in 2020, top offers include Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, and Florida) for a 70+ yard reception to set up the Destrehan offense inside the five-yard line.
On the first play of the second quarter, Damarius Jackson put Destrehan on the board with a one-yard keeper to cut the lead in half. The next score of the half was when Destrehan kicker William Bryant connected on a 32-yarder to put the halftime score at 14-10.
The second half was dominated by the St. James defense and special teams. Huge plays by Tyler Steib, Savion Jones, Lamon Lewis, and J’Kory Ester greatly contributed to the Wildcats win. With 5 minutes left in the third, Tyler Steib (offer from UTSA) blocked a punt attempt and DL Savion Jones (top offers include Florida, Houston, and Virginia) returned the ball 20 yards for a touchdown to bring the lead to 21-10. Steib discussed the bigtime play saying, “On the blocked punt, my teammate Savion Jones looked at me and told me ‘go get it’, and that’s exactly what I did... I blocked the punt and luckily, he was there behind me to scoop it and score it. It gave us an extra touchdown going into the fourth quarter, and that was the extra boost that we needed.”
In the fourth, Alec Mahler knocked in a 35-yard field goal to bring the lead to 24-10 with 10:49 left. Destrehan’s next drive ended with a St. James touchdown after DB J’Kory Ester picked off a pass and returned the ball 90 yards for the score. The play shut down the whole stadium as everyone went absolutely berserk. Very few times will you see a team show the amount of swagger and confidence as St. James did at that moment. The clutch play gave St. James a 31-10 lead with just 9:21 left in the game.
Up until the last four minutes of the game, everything was smooth sailing for the home Wildcats. Everything felt at ease until Destrehan made one final push. Damarius Jackson found receiver Matthew Erwin for a 62-yard TD. Destrehan then recovered an onside kick after the ball hit an abnormal bounce and brushed off the shoulder of a St. James player. On the fifth play of the drive, Jackson found Quincy Brown for an 11-yard touchdown pass with 1:51 left in the game.
Trailing 31-24, Destrehan attempted another onside kick with no prevail. However, on St. James’ first snap of their possession, Smith fumbled the ball with 1:34 remaining. Destrehan was shut down on their last attempt of the game. They only gained five yards on their four downs, resulting in St. James fending off the late game resurgence by the visitors.
Destrehan’s performance was dry all night until the last four minutes of the game. The offense struggled mightily, but the team’s defense should be highlighted for their performance. After giving up the two early TD’s to Shamar Smith, they held St. James to only one offensive score via a 32-yard FG in the fourth quarter. Newly decommited Miss. St. Bulldog Quincy Brown had a standout performance: 10 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown. Alabama commit Kyle Edwards had a mediocre game until the fourth quarter: finishing with 120 yards on 20 carries. Somehow, they totaled 435 yards of offense, opposed to just 254 for St. James. For Destrehan, they were outplayed for most of the night, but simply started to get going far too late. Next week, Destrehan travels to open their district slate against a much lesser opponent in H.L. Bourgeois.
For St. James, they should be very happy with the way they played. Although they let up a little bit in the final minutes, they should learn from the late game mistakes and return a better team next week. Shamar Smith had a solid game, but the story of the game should be the special teams and defense. The Wildcats found a way to score in all three phases of the game. They showed they were the better team and better-coached.
Head coach Robert Valdez discussed the importance of three phases of the game. “A lot of times, kids don’t believe in the three phases. And to be able do that in a big game like this, this is playoff atmosphere in week 4, to be able to do it only validates it.”
Next week, St. James travels to play Assumption, followed by a tough district opener against Lutcher at home. When asked about how he made the schedule, Valdez said, “We just wanted to get some real tough games to get us ready for district, to pile up on power points and hopefully make a push to be up top in the power rankings when it gets to the playoffs. To be 4-0 at this time and the last three teams we beat being 5A, that’s phenomenal.”
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