Rams, Rebels set for showdown Friday

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013


LAPLACE — If one is looking for offensive fireworks this Friday night, Reserve might be a good place to begin and end that search. 
That’s because West St. John is set to visit Riverside, pitting two of the state’s most explosive offensive teams against one another in a battle for River Parishes bragging rights and a matchup of ranked teams. West St. John is ranked third in Class 1A and Riverside fourth in Class 2A in the latest LSWA polls.
Both teams are coming off of decisive victories. The Rams (2-0) bested Bogalusa 45-6 and haven’t yet been tested in the young season. The Rebels (1-1) toppled Loranger 31-0 and while Riverside has absorbed a loss, it came in a close game against a strong Evangel team in the season-opening week.
Both teams also enter this season with high expectations after a strong postseason run in 2012. The Rams reached the Class 1A semifinals, while the Rebels were a 2A quarterfinalist.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez. “When you talk about two River Parish teams, the atmosphere, it should be tremendous this Friday night.”
After a breakout season by its offense last year, bringing the defense to match that output has been the primary objective for the Rebels this season. Riverside coach Bill Stubbs called last week’s shutout of Loranger a “breakout game” for his defensive unit, one that held Evangel largely in check in the season opener.
West St. John pushes the offensive pace through its no-huddle, run-based attack. Stubbs said that the Rams’ pace isn’t the Rebels’ primary concern — it’s  making sound plays and judgments on the defensive side of the ball, no matter how many plays are run.
“I don’t think we’re responsible for their pace,” said Stubbs. “That’s what they do and they’re very good at it. I don’t know if we need to get real caught up in that. It still comes down to playing assignment football, and you’ve gotta play it aggressively. They do what they do and we’ll be ready for it.”
Valdez has taken note of the vast improvement the Rebels have shown on that side of the ball, particularly through the play of a defensive line led by nose tackle Richie George and end Joe Anderson.
“They’re huge,” said Valdez. “That front is extremely formidable. Starting with (George), he’s a big, physical guy with quickness. Then (Anderson) steps in this year, and he’s a physical specimen. 6-4 and looks like he’s 250. They present a challenge.”
The two passers taking the field at Riverside Friday were the two leaders in passing yardage a year ago. The Rebels’ Deuce Wallace took the prep world by storm last season as a freshman, finishing with 2,746 yards and 31 touchdowns against 14 interceptions through the air. Howard, meanwhile, passed for 2,081 yards and 23 touchdowns while making turnovers but a rumor, throwing just three interceptions through 13 games.
“I think these are two of the better quarterbacks in the state in terms of passing ability,” said Valdez. “Deuce has a real strong arm, a quick release and has total control of that offense. He’s years beyond where you’d ever expect a sophomore to be. We have to try to pressure him. You can’t let him be comfortable.”
“The guy’s good,” said Stubbs of Howard. “He’s got a lot of experience and he plays very, very well in the scheme of what they do. He’s got great command of that offense.’
“When you throw (Jeremy) Jackson in the mix and a couple of really good wide receivers they’ve got, that offense becomes extremely dangerous.”
As Stubbs alluded to, Jackson is the centerpiece to much of what the Rams do every week. Last season, he rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 scores as part of a timeshare with Kylum Favorite. This season, Jackson is the lead runner and he’s off to a monster start. He’s rushed for 340 yards and five touchdowns on 36 carries through his two games, while also tacking on a number of key plays as a receiver —such as the 60-yard touchdown reception he hauled in from Howard last week.
“You can’t expect to take him down with arm tackles,” said Stubbs. “You’ve got to form him up pretty good.”
Riverside, meanwhile, should be back to full strength offensively this Friday with the return of Von Julien —  teammate Herb McGee and he were the top two receivers statistically in the River Region last season. Julien missed last week’s game but has returned to practice.
In his stead, Darrion Cook stepped up last week to haul in four receptions for 91 yards and a score.
Stubbs said Cook’s emergence wasn’t so much about Julien’s absence but that the junior has asserted himself as a playmaker in his own right.
“He’s progressed this year,” said Stubbs. “We look to spread the ball around, but the matchups we get generally dictate where we’re gonna go with it. He’s become a guy that can take advantage. He’s catching it really well. The big thing has been the yards after catch. That’s something coach (Jade) Falgoust preaches, and (Cook)’s been doing a lot of good things in that area.”
Valdez said that limiting the Rebels in that area will be critical.
“You’ve got to tackle well and be aggressive, but disciplined,” he said. “Those guys are very, very good, some true athletes.”