Playoffs Bi-District: East St. John at Brother Martin, Saturday, Nov. 12, 1:30 p.m.

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 16, 2011


RESULT ESJ 35, Brother Martin 3.



RESERVE — The drought is over.

“We got the monkey off our backs,” said East St. John quarterback Darion Monroe.

Monroe and his teammates were elated Saturday after a job extremely well done. No. 18 seed East St. John had just finished off a dominating 35-3 victory over No. 15 Brother Martin in a Class 5A bi-district playoff game, snapping the Wildcats’ streak of first round playoff losses at six.

There were tears in the eyes of some players and fans after the win, one coach Phillip Banko knew his community desperately thirsted for upon his hiring as the school’s football coach and athletic director.

Banko said back then that the first order of business was to end the team’s winless playoff drought.

Business was booming on Saturday.

“There’s just a weight lifted off our shoulders,” said Monroe, who accounted for three scores. “Everyone counted us out against Brother Martin, but we planned on coming in and getting a win. We think we can go deep into this.”

Said safety Clarence Scott, “This is just great. It’s wonderful. From the first quarter on, we had the mindset to dominate. To do what we had to do, all day. And we did it.”

But the celebration was over on Monday as the Wildcats got back to work, preparing for a daunting task. East St. John will face No. 2 seed Jesuit in Reserve in a regional round game on Friday night.

Jesuit (11-0) is undefeated, all but one victory (a 29-28 win over East Jefferson) coming by 15 points or more.

The Blue Jays overpower teams with a massive offensive line that averages 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, and a stable of impressive rushers led by Paul Stanton and augmented by slash quarterback Cameron Dobbins, who will line up in multiple spots.

“They run the ball as effectively as anyone I’ve seen and that we’ve played,” said Banko. “They’re the number two team in the state. And now that St. Paul is out, they’re the top team.”

Defensively, Jesuit allows little; the Blue Jays allowed over 20 points just once in their first eight games. The unit stumbled a bit late in the season without standout linebacker Deion Jones, who missed time with an injury. But he is expected to be back on Friday night.

Jesuit, a quarterfinalist last season, brings a senior-laden lineup to Joe Keller Stadium this week, one that boasts 19 senior starters.

It defeated Sulphur Saturday, 40-14, at Tad Gormley Stadium. Stanton started and rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown on his first five touches. From there, Jesuit called upon Austin Duncan, a more bruising rusher, who carried 23 times for 128 yards and two scores.

Earlier that day, East St. John rolled to victory.

The Wildcats (8-3) punted on their first possession, but would score touchdowns on their next four. When East St. John would finally punt, early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats’ Troy Gerard recovered a fumble by the Crusaders at the Martin 2, setting up Jalen Kenner’s second touchdown of the day, a 35-3 lead, and setting the stage for a postgame celebration.

Darion Monroe had a big day, passing for two scores and rushing for another.

His first touchdown came from eight yards away after his own 45-yard punt return set ESJ up at the Brother Martin 38.

After ESJ forced another punt, the Wildcats took just four plays to move to a 13-0 lead when Monroe dialed up a deep pass to Marcus Robinson, who got behind the Crusader defense and scored from 54 yards away.

Brother Martin got on the board after a 12 play drive, but ESJ’s defense stiffened in the redzone and made Martin settle for a Michael McCarthy field goal to make it 13-3.

Monroe capped the 12-play, 81 yard drive with a 13-yard pass to the back of the end zone to Broussard.

Monroe scored on a 2-point run as well to make it 21-3 at halftime. ESJ never looked back.

“We’ve got one of the best receiving corps in the state,” said Monroe. “It’s deep and experienced. So why not throw and spread it around?”

Just as he understood the significance of the streak when he accepted the job, the victory’s meaning was not lost on Banko in the aftermath.

“It means a lot. We broke it,” said Banko. “You can see the tears in the eyes of fans, of players … they’re all proud of their Wildcats.”



RESERVE — If you’re looking for a showcase game in the first round of the state football playoffs, look no further than Tad Gormley Stadium this Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

No. 15 Brother Martin will host No. 18 East St. John in a matchup that boasts two seemingly evenly matched teams that attack in very different ways. The Wildcats boast quarterback Darion Monroe and a deep, talented receiving corps, while Brother Martin looks to wear teams down via running backs John West and Jabaar Singleton.

While it’s always dangerous to look at other matchups and draw concrete conclusions, one look at how the two teams did against common opponents certainly suggests a barnburner is in store: Brother Martin faced a pair of ESJ district foes in John Ehret and Higgins. It defeated Ehret by 28 and lost to Higgins by four.

The Wildcats, like wise, defeated Ehret by 28, and fell to Higgins by four.

“It’s a good matchup,” said East St. John coach Phillip Banko. “They’ve got the kicking advantage. I think we’ve got it at quarterback, though their guy is very good. Their offensive line is strong, and their defensive line as a whole is probably better, but our guys have been playing real well for awhile now. I think it’s going to come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes.

“But I’ll take my players any day. I love ‘em. And I’m sure their coach would say the same about his guys.”

East St. John has plenty of motivation, even beyond “Win or go home.” The Wildcats have a long streak alive of reaching the postseason. But East St. John also hasn’t won a playoff matchup since 2005, losing in the first round in each of the last five seasons.

Banko said before the season that his top on-field priority was ending that streak, and that’s clearly where his focus lies. It’s where he wants his team’s focus solely on, as well: he’s banned brackets from the locker room and even bracket talk. He doesn’t want his players looking even a second past Brother Martin.

One thing that will aid the Wildcats on Friday is the return on middle linebacker Devonte Johnson, the team’s leading tackler, averaging 10 a game. He has missed the last three weeks due to injury. Tailback Jalen Kenner also could be back.

“That will be a big lift,” said Banko of Johnson. “We’ve had some guys really step up at linebacker in his absence, but he’s a big boost. Jalen’s not all the way there yet, but if he gets himself a little bit closer, I’ll be feeling real good.”

Brother Martin finished 2-2 and in third place within District 9-5A. The Crusaders fell to Rummel last week, 24-17, in a game to determine second place behind Jesuit (which, if it wins, would face the winner of ESJ/Brother Martin in the next round).

Banko always pays extra attention to special teams, and as such he said that one of the biggest impact players in the game could be Crusaders’ kicker Michael McCarthy, generally regarded as one of the state’s very best kickers. McCarthy set a school record earlier this season by making all five of his field goal attempts in a win over St. Augustine. He’s also a skilled punter as well, meaning ESJ will have its hands full in the battle of field position.

Where that battle will take place holds a special place in Banko’s heart. Tad Gormely Stadium, he said, is a place he’s coached many times before, and he said he’s honored to do it again.

“I try to convey to my kids, Tad Gormley is probably, short of the Superdome, the premier place for high school football. If you win there, even if it’s the regular season or a jamboree, it’s meaningful. A lot of great players have played on that field, and a lot of championships have been decided,” he said.

He’s also continuing convey the importance of team, something he believes his players fully buy in to. Banko recently called upon Derron Thomas, former ESJ tailback and University of Miami standout, to speak to his players on that subject.

“He told them that he played on the highest scoring East St. John team in history,” said Banko. “But that they didn’t win the district title because they weren’t a true team. And these kids, I believe they’ve bit into that pie. They’re believing. They want to play for each other.”

ESJ won a shootout last week over Bonnabel, 45-32, and clinched a share of District 8-5A in the process.

Monroe passed for 216 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Rashad Green caught five passes for 155 yards and two scores and Marcus Robinson caught three passes for 64 yards.

Clarence Scott boosted ESJ early in the second half, returning the opening kickoff of the half 69 yards for a touchdown. Soon after, ESJ forced a fumble and Monroe dialed up Green for a 33-yard score. And Xavier Lewis soon returned an interception 33 yards for a score — ESJ scored three times in the first 1:30 of the second half. The Wildcats led 42-19 after three, then held off a late Bonnabel flurry.

“That’s a playoff game,” he said. “They had to win to get to the playoffs. It was senior night. They gave us their best shot, and we dealt with it. They’ve got a good team, but we had to play for what was in front of us: a district championship.”