Rams scorch Bulldogs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Sports Editor

In many ways, Friday night’s game between West St. John and Ascension Catholic was a microcosm of the Rams’ season to date. A slow start led to an early hole to climb from. And a spectacular finishing kick rendered it all but forgotten by the night’s end.

West St. John shook off a 12-0 first quarter deficit to score 39 unanswered points and clinch the outright District 9-1A championship with a 39-18 win over the Bulldogs in Edgard.

It is the second straight undefeated district championship for West St. John, and the first for first-year Rams Coach Robert Valdez.

“It’s very exciting for me,” said Valdez. “When you come into a situation like this where the team’s had a lot of success, you want to keep the tradition going. It’s rewarding, knowing how hard these kids have worked for this.”

After a 0-3 start this season, West St. John (5-3, 4-0) has won its last five games. The Rams ended the 2007 regular season on a similar five game winning streak after an 0-5 start, and rode the momentum to a state runner-up finish in Class 1A.

Key to Friday’s win was the Rams’ dominating, physical running game combined with a flare for the big play.

Senior receiver Terrance Nathan had a spectacular night, hauling in three touchdown receptions, all coming from 42 yards or longer. In total, he caught four passes for 180 yards.

Nathan left the game briefly in the third quarter with a wrist injury, but returned and didn’t miss a beat.

“I was hoping to come back after that. We taped it up and I was able to keep playing at the same level,” Nathan said. “I’ve got to thank my offensive line, they gave my quarterback time to throw and find me down the field.”

Dray Joseph found Nathan for all three touchdowns and passed for 220 yards. Kenneth Dabney rushed 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Lewis rushed for 31 yards and two touchdowns. And each Ram rusher piled on a lot of yards after contact.

West St. John outgained Ascension Catholic in total yardage, 419 to 281.

Ascension Catholic (4-5, 2-2) scored twice in the first five minutes of the first quarter, first on a Scott Charlesville 3-yard run, then on a Charlesville 11-yard scoring pass to Matt Pearce. Those scores made it 12-0, and West St. John’s sole possession of the district title looked to be in jeopardy.

“They had a lot to play for, too,” said Valdez. “They wanted a share of the title. We just needed to get the kids to settle down.”

It wouldn’t take long for that to happen. With 6:38 left in the first quarter, Joseph found Nathan deep for the first time of the night, creating a 66-yard touchdown and cutting the Ascension lead to 12-6.

WSJ tied the game on its next possession, as Dabney scored from 22-yards away with 26 seconds remaining in the first.

West St. John began its next scoring drive from the Ascension 30, after a good punt return by Ravon Owens. Joseph found Theron Clark for 22 yards to set the Rams up at the 8, and two plays later Lewis was in for a four-yard touchdown, netting the Rams their first lead. A Joseph two-point conversion pass to Clark made it 20-12.

Lewis would also help set up the Rams next score. His interception of Charlesville with 10 seconds left before the half left West St. John on their own 39. West St. John only needed one play — somehow, Nathan found himself completely alone in the Bulldog secondary, and brought in a 61-yard touchdown as time expired in the half to make it 26-12.

“Coach put me in the slot,” Nathan said. “The corner that was covering up top bit on the curl, and I guess they just lost track of me.”

It appeared the Rams scored in six plays on their first possession of the second half, but an apparent 38-yard touchdown pass by Joseph was called back due to an illegal man downfield. It didn’t matter — on the very next play, Joseph threw to Nathan deep again, and this time it went for a 42-yard score to make it 32-12.

“We knew they were going to play us man-to man, and it was up to us to exploit that,” said Valdez. We’ve been trying to hit on those big plays all year, and tonight we finally got it to work.”

Lewis’s 21-yard, tackle-busting touchdown run with 3:02 left in the third capped the Ram scoring.

Nathan said the district crown meant a great deal to him, as he wrapped up his final regular season game as a Ram.

“It’s wonderful to go out in my senior year as the district champs,” he said. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”

But Nathan could think of one way to top the feeling.

“We’re looking to make another run to the Dome,” he said. “This time, coming away with the victory.”