Riverside seeks to stop St. James from ‘breakout’

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2013


LAPLACE—Riverside coach Bill Stubbs sees a familiar sight when he watches the film of St. James through its first three weeks.
“They’re very similar to us a year ago,” said Stubbs. “We were in the same boat in a lot of ways.”
As the Wildcats in the District 8-2A opener for both teams, St. James stands at 0-3 under first-year coach Dwain Jenkins. St. James has seen a stark improvement through its first three weeks and its reflected in its scores: a 35-7 loss at West St.  John, then a 28-14 loss at home to E.D. White and finally a 22-18 loss at Vandebilt Catholic, the latter a game that St. James led 18-7 with just over eight minutes left to play.
Last season, Riverside began 0-4 before winning six of its next seven to reach the Class 2A quarterfinals. The Rebels lost decisively in three of those losses.
“Both teams had youth,” said Stubbs. “A new head coach and staff, new ideas, a new philosophy. Dwain is doing a real nice job over there. It always takes some time for these things to come together. They’re gonna break out. I just don’t want it to come against us this week.”
The Rebels’ recovery last season came on the back of the growth of one of the most explosive offenses in the state, a shotgun spread attack captained by a freshman passer in Deuce Wallace.
As such, it’s a blueprint the Wildcats appear to be following. Jenkins’ brings the spread system he called plays for so successfully as Lutcher’s offensive coordinator and it, too, is led by a freshman on the rise in Lowell Narcisse.
Then again, there are some distinct differences. That Riverside team had a 50-point effort against South Plaquemines during its 0-4 start, portending to the Rebels’ offensive potential. The St. James offense has struggled thus far.
By the same token, the Wildcats’ defense is far ahead of where the Rebels’ stop unit was a season ago at this time. Riverside allowed 222 points through its first four weeks. St. James has allowed 85, the defense a strength on the back of an experienced group of upperclassmen and returning starters.
Riverside can certainly add a big number to that total in Week 4, but Stubbs recognizes that it won’t be easy to do so.
“They’ve got athletes,” he said. “They run to the ball extremely well and when they hit you, boy, they’re really gonna hit you. The first order of business for us is to take care of the football.”
Riverside comes off of a thrilling victory over St. James rival West St. John, a 35-32 victory with an abundance of twists, turns and tricks. 
In that game, the Rebels had to deal with a stellar playmaker in running back Jeremy Jackson, who rushed 18 times for 164 yards and scored on a run, a reception and then nearly on a kick return before exiting with an injury.
St. James brings a few playmakers to the table as well, including standout receiver/returnman D’Kwan Sandolph. Sandolph played quarterback for SJH a season ago before moving to play primarily receiver, but has generated a slew of big plays for his team this season. He’s hauled in eight receptions for 173 yards and two scores and has a 74-yard rush for a touchdown.
“We’ll be looking at him the same way we looked at Jackson,” said Stubbs. “We know if we let down our guard at all, he’s gonna hurt us in a big way. We’ve got to be conscious of where he is at all times.”
Sandolph and running back/defensive back Rashaan Dennis have also been a big presence in the return game. Riverside could negate much of that through the leg of Tyler Gauthier, who has consistently registered touchbacks this season for RA.
Jenkins said after the Wildcats fell to Vandebilt Catholic that his team is making strides but still must learn how to win and close games out. St. James lost its 11-point lead late after the Terriers recovered a fumble in the endzone for a touchdown and after Vandebilt blocked a kick to set their offense up inside the 5. The latter led to the eventual go-ahead score.
“We had the ball with a chance to score and put it away, or at least take some time off the clock with a few first downs. We didn’t do that,” said Jenkins. “When a win is out there for the taking, you have to go grab it.”
The Wildcats had a potential 60-yard  touchdown called back in the first half Friday night negated by an illegal block in the back.
Jenkins said the mistakes and penalties are indicative of a team unsure of how to put teams away after two seasons of winless ball.
“The kids played hard. We hadn’t turned the ball over until late. We did a lot of things well,” said Jenkins. “The program hasn’t had success over the past two seasons and with that, our kids haven’t learned to take advantage of these opportunities. We’re getting there.”