Rams, Howard dominate rival Eagles

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 19, 2011

By Ryan Jones
Special to L’Observateur

All season long, West St. John Coach Robert Valdez has been pulling his hair out, just watching sophomore quarterback Austin Howard make mistakes and develop. In the wake of his team’s regional playoff victory against St. John-Plaquemine Friday, however, all Valdez could do was smile.

Howard was nearly flawless, completing 18 of 22 passes for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the sixth-seeded Rams’ 40-7 home win versus the Eagles (8-4), which advanced the squad to the Class 1A quarterfinals. West St. John (10-2) will travel to play Haynesville Friday.

“[Howard] manages, does some good things and gets us out of bad situations,” Valdez said. “He’s playing really level for a sophomore. He does the things we need within our offense and is smart enough to take what they give us. I’m really proud of him, and for him to be a catalyst and lead, that’s awesome.”

Benefitting from the Rams’ solid pass protection, Howard picked apart the St. John defense all game long, and afterward, the young signal caller said he didn’t just feel like yet-to-be-realized potential.

“I felt confident tonight,” Howard said. “The coaches gave us a good game plan. It was unique, but I have to give credit to the coaches, the O-line and the receivers for making plays when I put it in the air. When I started for the first time, I was only 13 years old. Now that I’ve developed, it’s game time.”

The WSJ defense never allowed the St. John rushing attack to gain any momentum, holding its opponents to 99 yards in total offense. The majority of that yardage came on a fourth quarter 63-yard touchdown run with Rams reserves on the field.

“I thought they had the best defensive personnel in our class, and they proved it,” St. John Coach Tut Musemeche said. “They have a championship look to them, and I think they can represent their school and our district extremely well in the next couple of weeks.”

When the two teams squared off three weeks ago during the regular season, the Eagles rushed for 307 yards and three touchdowns in a 36-20 Rams victory. Valdez said his squad was determined to make sure St. John didn’t enjoy a repeat performance.

“I’m very excited for my defense. I think that in order to make a championship run, the defense has to be stellar,” Valdez said. “The last time we played them, they did some things on the ground offensively, and I think our kids took it personally.”

The Rams grabbed momentum early after Eagles junior punter Morgan Booksh bobbled a fourth-down snap and went down at his own 24 yard line with 10:37 remaining in the first quarter. Five plays later, Howard completed an 8-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jairus Moll, and after a missed extra point, WSJ grabbed a 6-0 lead.

“In the playoffs, you’ve got to be clicking on all cylinders for you to be successful,” Valdez said. “I think our special teams came up big tonight. We really pushed for all three phases.”

Moll finished the game as Howard’s leading receiver, grabbing six balls for 139 yards. Senior Lawrence Williams caught Howard’s other touchdown pass, a 21-yard dart in the corner of the end zone during the second quarter, and finished with two receptions for 44 yards.

Freshman running back Jeremy Jackson, still making his way back from injury, extended the Rams lead. Jackson converted a fourth-and-short toss play and sped 39 yards for a touchdown, which gave West St. John a 12-0 advantage with 11:50 left in the half after a failed two-point conversion.

Jackson finished as the team’s leading rusher with 66 yards and three touchdowns on just five carries. Junior Kylum Favorite finished closed behind with 62 yards on 18 carries.

“It’s great to have a guy like [Jackson],” Valdez said. “Kylum is our starter, and he had a great season. And then you bring in [Jackson], and it’s hard to prepare for both of them. When Austin is throwing it the way he’s throwing it, it gives us a lot of options.”

In the third quarter, the Rams sealed the win after recovering an Eagles fumble on their second play of the half. Jackson took the ball into the end zone with 6:43 remaining in the period just four plays later. The extra point was blocked, but WSJ went up 25-0, essentially putting the game out of reach.

St. John quarterback Hunter Schnebelen struggled against the strong Rams secondary, completing only 1 of 8 passes for 11 yards. Senior tailback Davante Williams led the Eagles with 95 yards and one touchdown on eight carries. St. John had just 17 total yards at halftime.

West St. John developed an offensive rhythm that lasted throughout the game, tallying 265 yards of total offense at halftime and finishing with 487 yards.

The Rams will travel to Haynesville next week after the Golden Tornado downed Christian Life 31-28 Friday night. Valdez, however, already has a championship in the back of his mind.

“We’ll take it one game at a time, but I want it to take us to the Dome,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to get there and win it.”