Week 1: West St. John at St. James, Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m.
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 19, 2011
By RYAN ARENA
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