Wildcats brace for Hurricanes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011



RESERVE — Football coaches often speak of homecoming week as a dreaded entity that serves to distract players, perhaps leading to a flat performance on Friday night.

Despite all the festivities, however, East St. John coach Phillip Banko likely need not worry about motivation this week.

It is almost certain that his Wildcats (6-2, 3-0) know the stakes as they host the Higgins Hurricanes (5-2, 2-1) this Friday night on ESJ’s homecoming week. Win, and clinch a share of the District 8-5A championship while keeping hopes of an outright title alive. Lose, and fall into a 3-way tie for first, needing to win next week to keep hopes of a two or even three-way championship alive.

“No doubt about it. This game is huge,” said Banko. “All we’ve talked about since day one is to get our team to play at a championship level. And this is a championship game for us. This is what we’ve been preparing for.”

Higgins won its first two district games, over Destrehan and Bonnabel, before falling to Hahnville last week in a game that went down to a fourth quarter in which the Tigers scored three times to pull away for a 25-8 win.

Higgins quarterback Cedric Jackson is one of the metro area’s best at creating yardage with his legs; he rushed for 163 yards last week against Hahnville. But the Tigers were able to severely hamper Jackson’s ability to pass, limiting him to 3 completions on 15 attempts and just 15 yards.

Higgins’ running back Darrel Williams also is a major threat, someone Banko calls the fastest back in the district and who runs behind a mammoth offensive line. Williams accounted for Higgins’ touchdown and two-point conversion last week.

“We don’t match up with them, no,” said Banko. “All we can do is try to limit what they do best. Fundamentals, gap integrity … Hahnville did a very good job. Hahnville’s got better personnel than what we have (defensively). But our kids are up to the challenge, I know that.”

Banko has maintained throughout the year that his defense is an “average defense”, but that his players are putting in the work to get to where they need to be.

That work looks like it’s been fruitful. East St. John’s defense has played six consecutive shutout quarters, from the second half of the Hahnville game through it’s 20-0 win at Destrehan last week. Two touchdowns allowed to the Tigers were aided or directly scored by special teams plays. ESJ toppled Ehret in a game that it allowed just one first down in the first three quarters. It shutout Capitol the week before that, then held Parkview Baptist to 16 a week before.

“I am happy with them,” said Banko of his defense. “They’ve really evolved as we’ve gone alone and they’re playing good football … Destrehan was a good example. They kept going weakside, and (linebacker) Rendell Delay was there every time … He’s becoming a good football player.”

Clarence Scott was another player Banko noted as having a big impact. Against Destrehan, Scott had 14 tackles and intercepted a pass. The interception came as time expired in the first half, as Destrehan had one play to score from the ESJ 6; Scott intercepted Donovan Isom’s pass in the endzone, stopping DHS (2-6, 0-3) from gathering any momentum, and the 20-0 score at the time ultimately stood.

The defense indeed stood tall at Destrehan, but there was no ignoring the impact of the ESJ special teams, a unit that was largely responsible for putting DHS in an early hole. ESJ scored on the very first play of the game when Deszmann Broussard took the opening kickoff and raced 99 yards for a score to make it 6-0.

ESJ would not convert the point after, but it forced a three-and-out defensively. On the ensuing punt, Xavier Lewis fielded it and took it straight up the sideline, going 52 yards to the DHS 3. After a false start, ESJ quarterback Darion Monroe rolled left and found Rashad Green for an 8-yard touchdown. The two-point try was stopped.

Broussard credited his teammates on his return score, noting the tough blocking; he was as proud of his own block on Lewis’ punt return, one that helped free Lewis to find open field.

“We came out here with one thing on our minds, to dominate,” he said. “When you have that mindset, and you get it done in all three phases, you’re going to have success.”

ESJ scored one more time, in the second quarter, on Monroe’s 16-yard touchdown sweep.

ESJ overcame the loss of standout defensive tackle Gerron Borne, who was ejected for fighting (“He did something uncharacteristic of him, and the official made a great call, an obvious call. We had guys step up to the plate after that,” said Banko) and a scoreless second half to win.

Isom, starting in place of injured starter Dillan Dent, passed for 224 yards, his favorite target Ferman Victor, who caught 11 passes for 130 yards.

But the yards didn’t equate to points, and that ability to ben but not break defensively is something Banko wants to continue seeing, especially against a dangerous upcoming foe.

“We know a hurricane’s coming,” said Banko.

“We’ve got to weather the storm.”