Explosive St. Amant to challenge Wildcats

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2013


LAPLACE — It’ll be a showdown of former district rivals at Joe Keller Memorial Stadium Friday night as East St. John hosts St. Amant in a matchup of the 15th and 18th seeded teams respectively in the Class 5A “non-select” division.
St. Amant enters with a record of 6-4, and has lost three straight games, but that losing streak likely belies the team’s true talent level: the Gators’ four losses have come by a combined eight points — a 53-50 loss to Dutchtown, a 21-19 loss to East Ascension, a 28-27 loss to Woodlawn and a 31-29 loss to Warren Easton. Three of those four teams sport records of 8-2.
ESJ coach Phillip Banko said that while these teams played in the same district as recently as 2010, there isn’t much familiarity to fall back on.
“They’ve got a new coach and an entirely new offense,” said Banko. “They run the spread now, and they run it well. They’re averaging 38 points a game. They’re only giving up 18 defensively. They’ve got 39 seniors on that team, and they come from a tough district. All of those teams are playing one another again … the bottom line is that this is a very good team that’s coming in here on Friday.”
Banko said that St. Amant’s size on the defensive line is a concern that the Wildcats’ run-oriented offense must overcome.
“They’ve got two ends, each is 265,” said Banko. “We don’t have anyone that big on our side.”
When the Gator defense plays its best, the team typically comes away with a win. In St. Amant’s four losses, it’s allowed 21 points or more each time. In its six wins, the Gators haven’t allowed more than 16.
That unit will be tasked with stopping a Wildcats offense led by quarterback Xavier Lewis and tailback Nigel Anderson. Anderson has rushed for 1,165 yards this season to lead his team. Lewis has tallied 846 yards this season.
Gators’ quarterback Tyler Dixon has led a prolific offense this season. But Dixon may be forced to miss Friday’s game with an injury. If that’s the case, Banko said St. Amant is likely to turn to Marquise Hampton, who led the Gators last week after Dixon left the Dutchtown game in the third quarter.
Hampton passed for a score and rushed for two others in the five-overtime loss.
St. Amant led 24-17 with under a minute left in regulation.
The Gators also have a weapon in the kicking game. Trey Belleu nailed field goals of 42 and 28 yards in the loss.
“They’ve got weapons at quarterback, running back and wide receiver,” said Banko. “They do some no huddle, but I don’t see that affecting us much. We don’t huddle up on defense, or rarely do so.”
East St. John (6-4) split the District 7-5A championship with Destrehan this season, missing a chance to win it outright a week ago after a 38-14 loss to their rival.
But it still equates to the second district championship in three years for ESJ, and that’s something Banko says his players should be quite proud of.
This group, he said, has grown up since its playoff loss at Airline a year ago. He believes it can makes waves this postseason.
“And I’m excited that this game’s gonna be at home,” said Banko. “That’s something you always strive for and it always creates a great atmosphere when you’ve got a playoff game in the River Parishes.’
“We’ve won two district titles and finished as runner-up in the past three years, which shows you the job these kids are doing and where the program is. I can’t be more proud of them.”