Wildcats eye upset as Patriots roll in

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 17, 2013


LAPLACE — East St. John coach Phillip Banko counts John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis as one of his mentors. Banko himself is a former Patriots assistant, and he often seeks council from Louisiana’s all-time winningest coach.
But as Banko and his Wildcats seek their first victory of the season, the third year ESJ coach knows that the teacher will in no way, shape or form be offering a helping hand this week. John Curtis travels to Reserve on Friday night to take on ESJ, the Patriots themselves looking to shake off a rare loss after falling to St. Thomas Aquinas of Florida Friday night. Curtis is the defending national prep champion, and the loss snapped a 29-game winning streak.
“Curtis is Curtis,” said Banko. “You look at the guys they have coming back … they were ranked number one in the nation last year. They were third last week. They’ve been there for a reason. The names change on that team, but they’ve looked the same since 1968. They’ve got a number of guys that can beat you and take it the distance on a given play.’
“It’s not a team that many people are real anxious to play, but we’re excited about it. I know that playing Curtis makes you a better football team, and it’s gonna prepare us for our district run and beyond.”
East St. John’s highly touted defense has been as advertised through two weeks, allowing just 35 combined points to Rummel and Scotlandville. But the Wildcats are searching for answers offensively after scoring just one touchdown over those two games.
Banko, whose coaching background is primarily based on the defensive side of the ball, said that his stop unit has been very good, praising those players’ effort and intensity. But at the end of the day, he said, it hasn’t been good enough to earn victory.
“As a defensive coach, I’ve always gone by the idea that if the opponent can’t score, they can’t win,” said Banko. “I’ll say this, our defensive line is playing as well as anyone’s in the state. Those guys are the leaders of this team, just as we thought they would be.”
For Wildcats quarterback Xavier Lewis, it’s been a trial by fire in his first two career starts, and the Patriots will tack on another suffocating defense to the early string of opponents. Lewis, a junior and early LSU commitment, beat out fellow senior Gerald Munoz just before the start of the regular season. Lewis has shown flashes, but the offense has struggled to find any consistency.
“He’s still a baby playing quarterback,” said Banko, noting Lewis primarily played cornerback and wide receiver until just before the season opener. “He hasn’t been facing the Little Sisters of the Poor, not exactly. We’ve had some drops and some bad throws and you have to give the opposition a lot of credit as well.’
“He’s like a sponge. He’s learning. He wants to learn and be coached. On any given play, even a broken play, he gives us a chance to go the distance.  I expect him to be better this week and to keep improving. I’m happy with him.”
Curtis stands as the No. 1 ranked team in Class 3A despite its loss Friday. East St. John will be its first in-state foe this season — the Patriots defeated Bergen Catholic of New Jersey in their season opener. Tailbacks George Moreira and Raekwon James leads the Patriots veer option-running attack, while quarterback Abby Touzet provides offensive balance. Moreira rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the Patriots’ opening week victory.
“They lost a good running back in that Tulane commitment (Sherman Badie), but they replace him with someone who’s probably just as good if not better (Moreira). You have to be disciplined to stop the option, but you can’t just sell out on the run because Curtis can throw the ball. Just ask St. Paul’s last year, or (Bergen Catholic) from New Jersey.  Malachi Dupre, he’s Mr. Everything on the outside. They make life difficult in a lot of ways.”
Banko said the Wildcats embrace the challenge, however.
“We knew we might be 2-0, 1-1, 0-2 … there were no sure things,” said Banko. “Our only concern was that if we play well in those games, it’ll make us a better football team.’
 “People just see 0-2, and we’re not beating teams 45-0 or 50-0. But when you play games like that, you don’t see the weaknesses you have, the things that hurt you in a district championship game. I don’t expect a blowout either way this Friday. I think we’re gonna see a really good, hard-fought game.”