Martin, defense lead East St. John to 19-7 win

Published 3:39 am Saturday, November 16, 2013


RESERVE — East St. John safety Amani Martin has long been known as one of the Wildcats’ most feared playmakers. Friday night showed exactly why.

Martin’s 90-yard “pick six” interception return for a touchdown stopped a potential go-ahead touchdown for St. Amant with 55 second remaining, putting ESJ ahead 19-7 and outright sealing the Wildcats’ first playoff victory at Joe Keller Memorial Stadium since 2006.

“We wanted to give our fans a show,” said Martin. “We didn’t want them to come out here for nothing. We had a tough loss last week to Destrehan and we wanted to redeem ourselves.”

East St. John coach Phillip Banko had a nickname for his senior playmaker.

“He’s the Honeycat. We’ve got a couple calls for him to break the coverage, kind of like we did with Ed Reed at Miami,” said Banko, a former University of Miami assistant. “We called for him to rob it on the underneath coverage a couple of plays before and missed, but he got that one.”

East St. John moves on to host No. 2 seeded Parkway in round two of the Class 5A postseason.

St. Amant knocked on the door for the entire fourth quarter after pulling within six points, starting three drives at the ESJ 45 or closer due to three short Wildcat punts. But with St. Amant on the 17-yard line, Martin broke on a Tyler Dixon pass and hauled in his second interception of the night.

From there …

“I just ran for daylight,” Martin said.

Banko called it a great day for the community, the playoff victory coming a little over a year after Hurricane Issac ravaged East St. John and displaced the East St. John students.

The Wildcats continued to deal with great adversity this season. ESJ defensive coordinator Jeff Russell passed away just before the season after battling cancer.

His players did him proud on Friday, holding a St. Amant team that averaged 38 points per game to just seven. East St. John (7-4) allowed no room in the running game and allowed just 53 first half yards.

St. Amant (6-5) got a spark in the second half once Gators coach David Oliver substituted quarterback Tyler Dixon in for starter Marquise Hampton. Dixon, the team’s usual starting quarterback, was dealing with an knee injury and sat out the first half.

But upon his insertion, Dixon connected with Hampton on a 39-yard pass down the sideline. ESJ held from there, but St. Amant broke through early in the fourth quarter on a Dixon jumpball that Hampton pulled down in the endzone for a 32-yard score, cutting what was a 13-0 ESJ lead in half.

The Wildcats scored twice in the first half on touchdown runs by Nigel Anderson and Xavier Lewis, and nearly scored a third time before the half. But two potential touchdown drops led to an eventual interception with ESJ down at the St. Amant 5.

That looked like it may loom large late in the game. St. Amant loaded the box and held ESJ’s rushing attack down in the second half, allowing just 42 Wildcat yards after halftime. ESJ rolled up 225 total first half yards.

The Wildcats’ front four pressured Dixon all night as well, and the ESJ secondary made it count. St. Amant’s second half drives, aside from the touchdown, ended in two three-and-outs, a missed field goal and three interceptions — two by Martin and one by Dontrell Allen. St. Amant’s final possession ended via time expiring.

Martin’s second pick proved the backbreaker.

“I knew he was going to run that swirl route. He ran the out kind of lazy, so I realized he was coming back inside. I jumped the route.”

St. Amant partially blocked two punts and pressured others. ESJ’s final three fourth quarter punts traveled a combined 35 yards.

Martin said he didn’t mind the short field, though.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than a cat with his back against the wall,” he said. “We kept fighting to the end. We played our hearts out.”