Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011



LAPLACE — While the games may not count in the standings, local fans attending the River Parishes Jamboree at East St. John over the past two seasons have certainly gotten their money’s worth by night’s end — and then some.

At the center of that has been a thrilling two-game series between the Wildcats and St. Charles Catholic, and it continues this Friday night — only this time, the Comets will have home field advantage as St. Charles hosts the jamboree in 2011.

Old Superdome foes West St. John and Riverside will renew their rivalry to kick off the competition at 6:30 p.m. East St. John and St. Charles will face off immediately after that. Each exhibition game will be played for 30 minutes, split into two 15-minute halves.

The Comets have gotten the better of East St. John in both games, each by a single point, and each coming down to the final drive. In 2009, it was Henri Faucheux’s touchdown pass to Tyler Roussel in the final minute of play and a surprise“ swinging gate” two-point conversion that gave St. Charles a 15-14 victory. Last season, a wild 35-34 affair also went the Comets’ way, St. Charles netting the victory after blocking ESJ’s point after try — that followed a Darion Monroe touchdown run in the game’s waning moments that looked like it would knot things up.

Few would be left with the impression after either of those clashes that the players involved did not badly want victory.

That said, East St. John coach Phillip Banko knows he has a job to do — the first order of business is to prepare his team for its opener at Carencro next week. Winning is secondary.

“It’s going to be pretty basic,” Banko said. “We’ll be running our base offense and defense. Our kids are going to hit, then get in the huddle. Hit, and get in the huddle. So we’re not going to be out to trick anyone. They know what’s coming.

“People want to say it’s a local rivalry, but I don’t know if you can call it that … they’ve beat us twice in a row, and a rivalry goes both ways. We’ll be testing ourselves against a very good team.”

But while he downplayed the importance of a win versus a loss, don’t confuse the first-year head coach of not seeing the value of the exercise. The Comets, he said, offer a strong measuring stick to see how far the Wildcats have come in their preparations.

“It’s a great dress rehearsal. St. Charles is probably the most well-coached team, or at the very least as well-coached, as any team we’ll face this season. We saw what they did against Hahnville, another very good team. Their halfback (Lazedrick Thompson) ran for 140 yards. He’s impressive.”

Thompson is one of a slew of impressive players who will be on display. His fellow Comets’ tailback Marcus Hall is a threat to score from anywhere on the field as a rusher, returner and receiver — and indeed did so over 30 times last season. East St. John quarterback Darion Monroe is a Texas A&M commitment and the returning St. John Parish Offensive M.V.P. He accounted for 42 total scores. Defensively, St. Charles defensive end LaJaylin Smith and East St. John defensive tackle Gerron Borne are no fun to block for opposing lineman.

Banko has made improving the Wildcats’ special teams play a point of emphasis this summer, and SCC will be a major test in that area.

“People talk about John Curtis and their special teams play, but right behind them if not on par with them is St. Charles,” said Banko. “We’re going to have to be sound and be prepared for some of the things they do in the return game. You also always have to be on the look out for the different things they do on field goals, the swinging gate … I’m excited. It’s a good test.”

West St. John and Riverside faced off on the biggest stage in 1998 when the Rams defeated the Rebels for the 2A state championship. It’s a local rivalry that’s stood the test of time, and one that Rams’ coach Robert Valdez said brings the best out of both teams.

“West St. John and Riverside have history. It’s always going to be a tough game,” said Valdez. “It’s an opponent that we know very well, and it brings out the best in our kids as well as theirs.”

The Rebels have beaten the Rams in each of the past two seasons. One of those wins came in dramatic fashion two years ago, a Riverside goalline stand halting a late West St. John comeback in a 13-6 win. Riverside topped the Rams 25-7 in last season’s jamboree.

Valdez echoed some of Banko’s thoughts, noting that the jamboree is part of a larger building process in preparing for the season.

“You don’t walk before you can run, and you have to establish consistency in your fundamentals before you can have success during the season,” he said.

“You really don’t want to try to do too much, too fast, because it’s going to set you back. We’ve got to make sure we’re solid in our base offense and our base defense before you add anything else.”

Each defense figures to severely test the other. Riverside has had to replace nearly its entire starting lineup from last season. Sure to complicate matters on Friday will be a Rams’ defense that boasts one of the state’s most disruptive forces in linebacker Ronnie Feist, L’Observateur’s returning Defensive M.V.P. in St. John Parish. Feist leads a veteran unit that kept eventual 1A champion White Castle’s explosive offense in check twice last season, and along with other standouts like cornerback Jarius Moll and linebacker Dontre Turner, will test how cohesive the Rebels are to date.

On the flip side, the Rams’ offense is more experienced than a year ago, but the Rebel defense also looks to be a vastly improved unit on paper. The defensive line is new, but senior linebackers Grady Gieger and Kalen Jenkins lead a strong and experienced back-seven. The secondary is a strong one, with Tate Scioneaux and Nate Williams returning at corner, and Roussel expects big things from safety Lucas Martin.

But the potential for some fireworks are there. Moll and running back Jeremy Johnson are explosive weapons for the Ram offense, while rushers Williams and Jonquial Sanders can make things happen for the Rebels.

Tate Scioneaux will start his first game for the Rebels at quarterback; Austin Howard, meanwhile, started part of last season there. Both look to build on strong summer play.

One night earlier, the rest of the region’s teams will kick off their seasons with the Destrehan side of the River Parishes Jamboree. DHS will host Lutcher in the second game of the doubleheader, while Hahnville and St. James will kick things off in the first game.

St. James is a team in transition after the departure of longtime coach Rick Gaille, and new head coach James Bell said that a number of starting jobs are up for grabs; Thursday’s action, therefore, could go a long way in shaping how the Wildcats look in their season opener at West St. John next week. Running backs Kenneth Armant and LeRohn Cambre and linebacker Seth Keller are players to watch.

Hahnville, meanwhile, is looking for a vastly improved performance after struggling against St. Charles in a scrimmage last week. The Tigers are replacing 18 starters from a year ago, but still boast one of the state’s top secondaries, led by LSU commitment Jerqwinick Sandolph.

Lutcher, meanwhile, comes off of its district championship campaign of a year ago and will try to extend a two-year jamboree winning streak against the Wildcats. The Bulldogs for the first time in a long time cannot call upon wide receiver Jarvis Landry to be among its offensive leaders. But running back Daniel Taylor is back, as well as defensive anchors Jordan Batiste (defensive back) and Blake Roussel (linebacker) to lead a team that went 10-2 last season.

Extending that win streak to three will be no picnic though, not against an extremely talented and experienced Wildcats team that also has hunger on its side after a disappointing 3-7 finish in 2010.

Lineman Bryan Singleton, Marrick Charles and safety Spencer Bentley are among the leaders on a defense that some believe could be as talented as the 2008 5A title squad; the offense also boasts explosive playmakers, with wideout/jack of all trades Rickey Jefferson chief among them.