Evangel proves too much for St. James, wins 31-7 in semifinal meeting

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Sports Editor

All season long, Evangel’s offense captured headlines. But on Friday night, its defense and special teams spelled elimination for St. James.

The Eagles scored twice on special teams and held the Wildcats scoreless until the fourth quarter on their way to a 31-7 victory in a Class 2A semifinal game at St. James.

Evangel (13-1), the No. 2 seed in Class 2A, will face No 1. Curtis in the state championship game at the Superdome on Friday.

St. James (9-4) gained only 171 yards of total offense, 84 of that on the ground. It came after three consecutive weeks of 300-plus yard rushing days for the Wildcats. St.

James also turned it over four times.

“If you’ve followed Evangel football in the past, it’s always the offense that gets the headlines,” said Evangel Coach John Bachman said. “But the defense is what wins the championships, and it’s no different here.”

Said St. James Coach Rick Gaille: “We got beat by a better football team. They executed in all phases very well, especially in the beginning.”

That early execution quickly sucked the air right out of a charged up St. James crowd. The Eagles’ Cerderrick Tyson returned the opening kickoff of the game for a touchdown, and just like that Evangel led 7-0.

The lead doubled after St. James’ second possession of the night. The Wildcats blocked an Evangel field goal attempt, but were forced to punt after three plays. Evangel’s Trey Wilson blocked the attempt and Ray Johnson recovered in the endzone to make it 14-0 with 5:27 left in the first quarter.

“We noticed something on film, and we thought we had a chance at blocking one,” said Bachman. “We just missed their first one, but we got the second.”

Evangel increased its lead to 21-0 with 2:23 left in the first quarter. Quarterback Dez Duron heaved a deep throw into the arms of Thomase Bridgewater for a 51-yard completion to the St. James 1. Justin Fortson converted it into points on the next play, plunging in to put Evangel ahead by three scores.

Brad Phillips gave St. James its first real spark when he stopped Evangel’s next drive by intercepting a Duron pass in the endzone. He returned it to the St. James 31, but SJH couldn’t get a first down and had to punt again.

A second Evangel turnover seemed to open the door once more for a momentum swing, as a high snap on a first down play from the St. James 12 sailed over Duron’s head and was recovered by the Wildcats at the SJH 44. But On the very next play, Wildcats quarterback Marcus Dumas was hit and fumbled it right back to Evangel’s Justin Walpool.

“The first rule usually is that if you’re digging yourself a hole, stop digging,” said Gaille. “We just couldn’t do that.

Evangel’s William Russ added a 38-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to make it 24-0.

It was quickly apparent that the second half would be no better than the first for the Wildcats. Dumas was intercepted to end each of the first two St. James drives. Bridgewater struck on his second big play of the night, a 66-yard touchdown on a wide receiver screen with 34:25 left in the third. That made it 31-0.

And St. James could never get its ground game going, despite its running attack being its hallmark all year — each Wildcat run up the middle was generally stopped for no or minimal gain, and the outside rushing lanes were cut off. Until Rojae Dumas’ 3-yard score with 4:12 remaining — set up by his own 43-yard run — St. James was completely stonewalled.

“Their physicality made it apparent that pounding their line wouldn’t so much good,” said Gaille. “And we didn’t have the slightest bit of speed advantage anywhere.”

Duron passed for 284 yards and a touchdown. Bridgewater caught five passes for 157 yards.