ESJ, WSJ set to begin district runs

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2012



RESERVE — East St. John coach Phillip Banko has said repeatedly, be it after a loss to top-ranked Curtis or a win over Capitol, that everything his team has done over the past few weeks is with the intention of being ready for John Ehret — the Patriots are the Wildcats’ opponent in the opening week of District 8-5A play.

That game is officially here — and at Joe Keller Memorial Stadium at that, setting the stage for an emotional return night for a team, and a school, that has gone through so much turmoil in the wake of Hurricane Issac.

“The one thing we’ve really missed on the road is our fans,” said East St. John coach Phillip Banko.  We’ve had many make the trips, but it’s not the same because this is our house. We’ve missed that jambalaya, the fried chicken, the turkey necks and the rowdy fans cheering… the band, the Sugarettes and cheerleaders.

“It’s all part of the unique pageantry of Joe Keller Stadium. We feel very fortunate to be a part of it.”

East St. John comes off of its first win of the season, a 41-20 win at Capitol Friday night.

Ehret, meanwhile, enters the game 0-4. The Patriots haven’t lost to also-rans, however. Ehret’s brutal predistrict slate included West Jefferson, South Lafourche, Brother Martin and Jesuit.

East St. John opened district play last season with a 43-14 win over Ehret. The 43 points were the second highest total of that season for ESJ.

Banko comes from a defensive background. Certainly, he’ll be highlighting Ehret tailback Darrel Williams in defensive meetings this week. Williams rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries last week in Ehret’s 44-12 loss to Jesuit.

The Patriots often use Williams in the Wildcat formation, and last week he racked up 92 passing yards from that set.

“We’ll have to try to give him a different look,” said Banko. “When he has the ball as quarterback, make him pass it. He makes his hay with his legs, so we want him to have to make a throw. You aren’t going to completely stop him, but our job is to slow him down.”

Defensively, Ehret did not fare well against Jesuit passer Andy Lee, who completed 10-of-13 passes for 211 yards and three touchdowns in just a half of play.

That could open the door for another big night from ESJ quarterback Leonard Davis, who has seen his numbers climb steadily this season. Davis has completed 46-of-91 passes for 820 yards this season. He’s thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions. Davis also hurts teams with his legs; he’s the Wildcats’ leading rusher with 264 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries.

It could also mean a big night for Deszmann Broussard, who has been Davis’ favorite receiver. He’s hauled in 22 receptions for 476 yards to go along with three scores.

West St. John might leave predistrict play wondering what might have been — the Rams are 1-3 with three consecitive losses despite each game coming down to the fourth quarter, and despite all three opponents being Class 4A or higher.

But that’s in the rearview mirror for last season’s Class 1A runner-up. West St. John may no longer be ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, as they were to begin the season (The Rams are currently ranked seventh), but they’re as battle tested as ever entering District 9-1A play this week — which means they’re likely to be a terror for Class 1A going forward.

It begins on the road Friday night, as West St. John will travel to face winless Ascension Christian.

“We’d love to be 4-0 and I feel like we could be 4-0 right now,” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez. “But we’ve gained a lot of valuable experience. We’re also pretty healthy.”

Ascension Christian, which began its football program in 2009, has fallen to Country Day, Dunham and Christian Life this season, with a fourth loss coming via forfeit to Bogalusa.

West St. John defeated Ascension Christian 47-0 last season. The Lions were winless in 2011.

Valdez said that the focus for Friday night is on setting the tone for district play along the line of scrimmage.

“Different coaches focus on different aspects at this point. For us, we need to assert ourselves on both the offensive and defensive lines. The things we do thrive on winning the battle up front.”

Valdez said that despite the loss, pushing Walker on Friday night — a team he estimates has five-to-six Division I prospects on the defensive side of the ball — gives his team confidence going forward.

The fact that the Rams have been here before doesn’t hurt, either.

“From here on, the numbers they’ve got across the field are pretty much equal to what we’ve got,” said Valdez. “We’re going to be the bigger, stronger team in most instances, in contrast to where we’ve been.”