Wildcats top Comets in thriller

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011



LAPLACE – East St. John and St. Charles Catholic each enter the 2011 season with sky-high expectations.

So too were the fan expectations for the jamboree battle between the teams on Friday night at St. Charles, after two years of classic contests that each came down to the final seconds. And those proved well-founded.

The Comets left each of those games with a narrow and oh-so-dramatic one-point victory. But Friday’s script played out for a drama more pleasing to the Wildcats faithful, as ESJ ushered in the Phillip Banko era with a 20-14 win over what had become a preseason nemesis.

Just as promising for the Wildcats was the way that it ended, a ESJ defensive stop of St. Charles in the two-minute drill as time ran out at the Wildcats’ 18, denying SCC of what could have been yet another one-point win.

Earlier in the second half, defensive back Clarence Scott made the play of the night when he chased down Comets rusher Lazedrick Thompson on what was nearly a breakaway, 80-yard scoring run. He forced a fumble just before the goalline, which the Wildcats recovered.

“I thought he had scored,” said Scott. “I didn’t realize the ball came out first until they told me. All I could think about was making a play for my team.”

Said quarterback Darion Monroe, who tossed the eventual game-winning 54-yard scoring pass to Rashad Green: “This was a team-wide effort. (Scott) had to make a play there and he came through. And I thank (him) for that.”

The team’s defense has been seen as something of an Achilles’ heel in years past. But Friday gave ESJ supporters hope that Banko — whose background is as a defensive coach — might help change that.

“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins titles,” he said. “(Scott’s strip) was a very good play. It’s what we teach. Pursuit, then strip the ball.”

Monroe passed for a pair of scores, both to Green, who had a breakout performance. Jalen Kenner, getting his first start at tailback, also rushed for a score on a night that he was deployed as a tailback, receiver and a “Wildcat formation” quarterback.

East St. John led 13-0 at halftime after a dominant first half, but St. Charles adjusted and had a vastly improved second half performance. Marcus Hall scored twice, once on a 5-yard “Wildcat formation” run, then on a 48-yard punt return to give SCC a 14-13 lead. The first score was set up by a 54-yard completion from Donnie Savoie to Sammy Miller, the Comets’ first true big play of the night that seemed to spark its second half effort.

But the Comets also lost two fumbles in the half.

St. Charles coach Frank Monica said that his team simply took too long to get going.

“We didn’t play with a sense of urgency until the second half,” he said. “We had to dig ourselves out of a hole. We needed to be a lot tougher in the first half.

“You can’t afford to come out and base your play on what happened in the previous week (SCC’s scrimmage win over Hahnville). Expecting the same result … and this was a classic case of that.”

Banko noted he was especially proud of his team for stopping the final Comets’ two-minute drill, one that followed Jeffrey Hall’s interception of Monroe at the SCC 18 with 1:56 left. The Comets drove 64-yards but stalled as time expired, ESJ flushing Savoie out of the pocket and forcing an incompletion.

“We didn’t get to work on our two-minute drill at the scrimmage last week,” said Banko. “But our guys stepped up and finished.”

East St. John must turn its attention now to a Carencro team that it has had success against in the recent past, but that boasts an impressive number of talented players. Banko estimates his team will be facing five Division I prospects on the Bears offense alone, led by quarterback Jalen Nixon. And those players are deployed in a variety of different ways.

“Their offensive line averages 290 across. They’ll start in Wing-T, then go spread, empty backfield, with no warning. So defensively, you have to be on your P’s and Q’s all night.”

Defensively, Carencro is led by “a werewolf” as Banko called him, 6-foot-four-inch, 290-pound defensive end Jacoby Briscoe.

“Adding to that fact, we’re going on the road … it’s a major challenge. But we like that,” said Banko. “We aren’t going to shy away from that challenge. You can’t afford to if you expect to do anything in the playoffs.”

Though it will be Banko’s first official game in charge, he said it doesn’t carry much sentimental value.

“You know, my wife, who is and has so instrumental throughout my whole life … she’ll probably send me an e-mail before this one about how it’s my first game. But aside from that … I don’t consume myself with personal things like that. I’ve got 96 young men and my job is to lead them. I’m not more important than the team … and a victory Friday would be the first step in where we want to go.”

The Comets also will hit the road, traveling to Florida to face Tate High School.

Monica thought the Comets’ schedule was set. But plans for the first week matchup were compromised and SCC was left without an opponent. With just about everyone else within the state spoken for in terms of an opening week matchup, Monica let it be known through online communication that the Comets needed an opponent.

Tate High School of Pensacola, Florida needed an opponent as well. Monica and Tate coach Ed Rigby agreed to pit their respective teams against one another to kick off the season.

A season ago, Tate — which in terms of power points is a Class 4A equivalent if SCC is to emerge with a win — was a run-oriented team. Not so in 2011. Tate has described his vision of the team’s new offensive as “basketball on grass” as it moves to a shotgun-spread, pass heavy attack. It will be triggered by junior quarterback David Moorhead and senior receiver Alex Westergreen.

“They have two quality running backs, good wide receivers, and a really nice quarterback who throws it well,” said Monica. “They’re a tough, hard-nosed team with a very large student body. This being the first game, a concern is our ability to control the tempo, especially on the road.”

But Monica also said that going on this road trip could be a valuable building block.

“If your worthy of being a playoff team, a trip like this can prepare you for what you see later,” he said. “It’s something to look back on when a similar situation arises. Your team matures early when it goes on the road. You face adversity, play in a new, strange stadium and environment in front of a hostile crowd. Those situations can teach you a lot.”