Rams finish as state runner up

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011



They say that it’s not about how you start, but how you finish.

But sometimes, that start means all the world.

For a West St. John team filled with players making their first ever championship game appearance, the start of the game spelled almost certain doom. For an Ouachita Christian team that experienced heartbreak in the 1A title game a year ago, the experience of being in that spot before guided it to the fourth state championship in school history, as the Eagles downed the Rams 23-7 in the Class 1A championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Friday.

“I’m very thankful for my kids, for the way they responded (after falling behind),” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez. “Their work ethic, their drive, it gave us the opportunity today. We came up against a very, very good Ouachita Christian football team today. We just came up a little short.”

Ouachita Christian (15-0) finished its undefeated campaign off with the crowd in large part due to a completely dominant first quarter effort that saw the Eagles outscore West St. John 17-0 and outgain the Rams 85 yards to 32. West St. John’s first four plays saw a run for loss, two sacks and a recovered fumble for a loss; it added up to minus-30 total.

“We probably had a few jitters,” said Valdez. “Nervous in the beginning, and it led to uncharacteristic mistakes. We kept fighting. This was the wire to wire number one team in the state, and we probably gave them their best game in a long time.”

For the game, Ouachita bottled up WSJ’s vaunted rushing attack, holding the Rams to minus-13 yards.

“These guys made a vow after losing last season that they’d get back next year and finish it, no matter what it took,” said Ouachita Christian Steven Fitzhugh.

The Eagles scored on their first three possessions. The first came a result largely of good field position after Josh Greer’s return to the OCS 47. Braden Bristo’s 34-yard pass to Brice Gillikin helped set up an 8-yard Mark Laird touchdown run to make it 7-0.

After a 3-and-out forced Steven Brignac to punt from his own 7, OCS took over on the WSJ 41 and went to work, this time setting up a score on Bristo’s pass to Laird for 41 yards; that gave OCS a first down inside the 5 and Bristo converted on a 5-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0 with a little over half of the first quarter remaining.

A second three-and-out by WSJ allowed OCS to take over one more time, this time driving from its own 29 into field goal range for kicker Luke Albritton, whose 26 yard field goal made it 17-0 with less than a minute left in the first.

The Rams settled down after that, and had a chance to make a push after a momentum stealing play by Demond Pierce, who intercepted Bristo just before half and returned it to the OCS 32.

Two plays later, Howard made one of the plays of the day, scrambling around for seemingly days before firing to Lawrence Williams, who caught the ball and fell into the end zone with eight seconds left before halftime to make it 17-7.

“That play gave us a lot of momentum,” said Valdez. “We just needed something good to happen. It gave us a lot of life coming out of the half.”

Said Howard, “I was just trying to buy time, keep my feet moving, keep my balance.”

But the Rams couldn’t draw closer. WSJ got one first down on its next two drives; on the Eagles second drive, Colby Webb broke numerous tackles and the game wide open on a rumbling 32-yard run that ended up finding pay dirt, making it 23-7 with four minutes left in the third.

The Rams had chances to make a push, but each time the OCS defense was up to the task. WSJ coach Robert Valdez tried to spark his team with a fake punt near midfield on a fourth and four; it came up short. Early in the fourth quarter, Ouachita made a goalline stand, stopping four times WSJ after a first and goal from the three; that was set up by a 34-yard completion from Howard to Lawrence Williams. The final play saw a fumbled center-quarterback exchange go for a loss.

Brignac had three tackles for loss, including a sack. Dontre Turner also had three tackles for loss for the Rams (12-3).

For Ouachita, Cade Harper tallied two sacks and three tackles for loss. Webb led the Eagles with 60 rushing yards.

Williams led the Rams with five catches and 89 yards. Howard completed nine of 22 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. But Ouachita pressured him early and often, and the sophomore was sacked seven times. Moll and Javen Toney intercepted passes.

“We came up short, but I still thank the Lord for giving us the ability to play in this game,” said Williams, a senior that played on both sides of the ball. “He didn’t have to put us in this situation. Even though we lost, we handled adversity well. These seniors gave all they had all season long. And for these juniors, I think they’ve definitely got the ability to lead a run next year. I look forward to seeing that.”