Rebels, Rams get back to work after jamboree

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011



When West St. John and St. James square off, the game tends to take the form of a weeklong event, participants on each sides competing against neighbors, friends and even family on the other.

After a run of Wildcats success in the rivalry, the Rams have turned the tide, edging SJH two years ago on the road, then scoring a decisive victory in Edgard last season.

This game will have a bit of a different look, though, as the coaching matchup no longer pits the Rams’ Robert Valdez against the Wildcats’ Rick Gaille. Valdez remains, but James Bell is now the head man at St. James, and Friday night’s matchup not only represents his first home game in charge, but his first taste of a heated local rivalry.

Valdez acknowledged the uncertainty involved in preparing for a coach who is coaching his first real game with his team, but did not believe it would play a major role in the game’s result.

“You do have to approach what they’ve done so far with at least a little bit of skepticism. You don’t know to what extent they’re changing their offensive system, if it will be somewhat similar or if there will be wholesale changes,” said Valdez. “From what we’ve seen, they’ve kept a lot of the offense intact. Defensively, they’ve changed a lot, though … they attack more, as opposed to more of a read and react style before.

“But once you get past the first quarter, once you get a feel for the game … there’s not much either team can really do to confuse you.”

The Rams’ own defense, meanwhile, has been perhaps the biggest key in the team’s recent success against their rival. St. James has scored a single offensive touchdown in each of the two previous games with West St. John.

“We’ve been able to cause problem for their (offensive) scheme,” said Valdez. “We look to match speed, to get a lot of people onto the field that can run. Offensively, we’ve had some success running the ball. But that’s something we need to improve upon, as far as where we are right now.”

That defense was missing a few pieces in its 8-0 jamboree loss to Riverside. Linebackers Ronnie Feist and Dontre Turner were out, as well as defensive lineman Eric Bell and offensive/defensive lineman Micah Claiborne. Claiborne and Bell should be back; Feist and Turner’s statuses are still pending. Valdez said he expected to get word on Feist’s availability, an LSU commitment, by today.

But Valdez had to be pleased with the effort of a defense that held the Rebels without an offensive touchdown despite the absence of those players.

“I was very pleased with the kids that stepped up on Friday. And what it does, it gets you excited to see what (the defense) can do when these guys are back healthy,” said Valdez.”

Bell, meanwhile, said that despite being a newcomer to the rivalry, he knows that the Rams present a challenge — and have certainly done so over the past two seasons.

“They’ve got good size, good speed, and they’re just very competitive every year,” he said. “They’ve had success against St. James … We’re not very big right now, so dealing with their size, their ability to run the ball, is a concern.

“It is the first real game … After the scrimmage and the jamboree, it’s our first chance to play against a school that isn’t 5A. We’re looking forward to it.”

Bell said that it being the first home game in his tenure, there is much work to do to prepare.

“There are a lot of time-consuming things on the table this week, but I’m looking forward to going out there and having a good game, and just being a part of this great tradition and this great rivalry of St. James and West St. John.”

St. James’ season a year ago was ended by Loranger, a team the Rebels are tasked with facing this week. The Wolves edged the Wildcats in the first round of the postseason a year ago, and Riverside coach Mickey Roussel said that his team has a challenge ahead of it on the road Friday night.

“Most of their guys are coming back. That’s a seasoned team, a pretty good Class 3A team,” he said. “So you’d imagine they’re feeling good right now, and they’ll be at home for their opener. We’ll have to be ready to play.”

Roussel said a particular challenge Riverside must be ready for is Loranger’s proficiency in running the stretch play. He expects to see a steady diet of those as the Wolves look top take advantage of the speed of their running backs.

“We have to be sure that we not only tackle well, but contain,” said Roussel. “We can’t allow them to get into open space.”

The Rebels’ defense did a good job bottling up West St. John in its 8-0 jamboree win Friday night.

Riverside linebacker Grady Gieger stepped up for the night’s biggest play, an interception of an Austin Howard pass over the middle that allowed Riverside to halt the Rams’ final drive, which had reached midfield.

“I saw the receiver … I settled in and read (Howard’s) eyes,” said Gieger. “And broke on it.”

Howard had just connected with Jarius Moll on a 37-yard completion down the sideline.

Gieger, who also had a few strong rushing attempts on the offensive side, credited the team’s preparation for the shutout performance on defense.

“We did a good job getting ready for them,” he said. “We worked hard all week. We came out tonight and just played football … We had penalties that killed a lot of our drives offensively tonight. But we’ll be okay.”

C.J. Edler hit two field goals for the Rebels.

But offensively, penalties, turnovers and bad exchanges proved stumbling blocks for each offense on their way to points.

“I feel like we regressed offensively from our scrimmage,” said Roussel. “We were out of sync. We had opportunities but never could put them away.”

He said that the issues are correctable.

“We do need to be more disciplined as a team,” he said. “Don’t grab or hold, don’t do things that will cost you five, 10, 15 yards. We missed some assignments.

“We had a few bad snaps, but we’ve fixed that … We’re a good practice team. Our guys have a good attitude about it. We did some things wrong on Friday, but we’ll get them fixed.”