West St. John, Christian Life highlight start of district

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 7, 2009

For two years, West St. John has had little resistance to taking the crown of district champion.

That should change this season, beginning on Friday night.

With the additions of St. John-Plaquemine and Christian Life to the District 8-1A mix (9-1A last season), there are a few landmines on the way to district glory this season for the Rams, as district play for all but a pair of local teams (Riverside and St. Charles began two weeks ago) begins on Friday night. Christian Life (1-4) is first up for WSJ (2-3) in a battle of the past two Class 1A state runner ups, and the current records of each team shouldn’t fool anyone. West St. John is actually ahead of its non-district pace over the last two years, when the Rams went winless against a tough, upper classification laden schedule. This year, the schedule was again tough, but wins over St. James and Bonnabel were impressive for the eighth-ranked team in Class 1A. WSJ has lost to St. Charles (No. 4 in Class 2A), Donaldsonville (No. 5 in 2A) and Class 5A West Jefferson.

Christian Life, meanwhile, is unranked a year after making its run to the Superdome. It’s hard to glean much from the Crusaders’ record. They have played and lost to the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A (Notre Dame) and the No. 3 team in Class 3A (Parkview Baptist). But they enter district play coming off a victory over Kentwood, the No. 10 ranked team in Class 2A.

WSJ coach Robert Valdez says one concern is his team’s ability to contain CLA quarterback James White, who directs coach Warren Capone’s spread offensive attack.

“He’s very, very athletic, and they do things to get their playmakers the ball in space,” Valdez says.

Defensively, Christian Life will attack the line of scrimmage, putting pressure on Rams quarterback Dray Joseph and tailback Kenneth Dabney to make them pay, either by completing passes or breaking runs to the second level.

“They’re going to blitz and try and create panic,” Valdez says. “It’s a good challenge to see where we stack up.”

Both teams are battle tested, and a win is vital – with No. 1 ranked St. John-Plaquemine still lurking for each within district, a loss likely leaves either looking on from the outside at district title contention.

I’d expect a close one. And in games like that, I’m a big time backer of a fine defense – and that’s what the Rams possess. A key turnover will probably loom large, and West St. John is likely to force it.

The Pick: West St. John 19, Christian Life 14.

St. Amant (5-0) @ East St. John (4-1) – A number of coaches said in the preseason that the lower tier teams within District 6-5A last year would be much improved, and so far East Ascension and St. Amant are making them look like prophets, going a combined 8-2 so far this season. The Gators have five of those wins, and as an undefeated team, they concern ESJ coach Larry Dauterive – “I wish we could have saved some of those points we scored for this week,” said Dauterive of his team’s 49-21 win last week over Carencro. I think the high-powered Wildcats will manage – the offense started off hot, and appears to be getting even better.

The pick: East St. John 42, St. Amant 20.

Riverside (4-1) @ John Curtis (5-0) – The Rebs are on a little bit of a roll. But Curtis is Curtis – they’ve given nobody a real reason to pick against them.

The pick – Curtis 35, Riverside 7.

Fisher (2-2) @ St. Charles (5-0) – The undefeated Comets look even more impressive than last year’s version. Fisher shouldn’t pose a threat.

The pick: St. Charles 45, Fisher 0.

Destrehan (2-3) @ Dutchtown (4-1) – Since being trounced by Lutcher, Dutchtown has won four straight. Destrehan will have plenty of motivation after its own loss to Lutcher, but I think the Griffins running game will be the difference here.

The pick: Dutchtown 24, Destrehan 20.

Lutcher (5-0) @ Helen Cox (0-5) – The Cougars are off to an disappointing start after some high preseason expectations. Lutcher is not exactly the ideal “get right” game for any team.

The pick: Lutcher 55, Helen Cox 31.

East Ascension (3-2) @ Hahnville (4-1) – EA is much improved this season, but the Tigers have laid waste to four of their five opponents. Hahnville is for real, and may not lose again this season. If they do, it won’t come here.

The pick: Hahnville 48, East Ascension 7.

Brusly (3-2) @ St. James (0-5) – Brusly’s played solid football this season, but St. James was favored to win this district in the preseason – and now they virtually have to win it to make the postseason.

I trust that the Wildcats will vent five weeks of frustration here.

The pick: St. James 35, Brusly 17.