Battle of elite backs takes center stage at WSJ

Published 2:57 am Wednesday, November 20, 2013


LAPLACE — The key for his West St. John Rams this postseason, said West St. John coach Robert Valdez, is to ramp back up to the level of play it exhibited during its six-game winning streak to end the regular season — and do it as quickly as possible, coming off of a first round bye.
That process begins on the field Friday night, with third-seeded West St. John (8-2) hosting No. 14 seed Elton(5-6) at Rudolph G. Dinvaut Memorial Stadium.
The top five teams in Class 1A all earned a first round bye, netting the Rams a week off to rest up and heal any injuries.
But conversely, West St. John was on absolute fire to end the regular season, scoring 55 points per game in district play and winning those games by an average margin of 42.
“We talked to the kids last Monday and basically told them that this is in their hands,” said Valdez. “We’ve had a week of good, strong practices.’
“We gave them off on Friday as a reward. I feel like our kids have maintained focus and understand what’s ahead of us.”
West St. John’s playoff opener will be highlighted by a matchup of two of the state’s best rushers.
Elton’s Marcus Lemoine finished the regular season as the state’s second leading rusher, gaining 2,035 yards and scoring 21 touchdowns on 248 carries.
The Rams’ Jeremy Jackson, meanwhile, earned 1,430 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on 132 carries. Jackson’s added five touchdowns on receptions.
“(Lemoine) is a special athlete. I’ve been talking to Jeremy about that,” said Valdez with a chuckle.
“I think he’s up for the challenge. We’ll be facing one of the best backs in the state, and he’s gonna want to outduel him.”
Lemoine does his damage out of the spread and, at times, the Wildcat.
“They’ll put the ball in his hands a lot of different ways,” said Valdez. “For us, we can’t allow them to take control of the line of scrimmage. We need to be the more physical team and make sure they don’t garner any kind of momentum.”
Elton exploded offensively in last week’s first round win over Logansport, winning 52-47. It had entered the playoffs coming off of two consecutive losses, and four losses in its last six games. Each of those four losses came by a lopsided margin.
But in Elton’s five wins, Lemoine and the offense have shined, scoring at least 28 points in each of those contests.
Keeping the team under than number will fall upon the Rams defense, a unit that lost eight of 11 starters from last season’s team, yet has remained stout.  West St. John shut out two teams this season and allowed 10 points or less in five of its games.
“We’re still molding our identity on that side of the ball,” said Valdez. “But it’s been exciting to see guys step up and play well in the spotlight.”
The Rams’ special teams drew Valdez’s praise as well. West St. John hasn’t allowed a kick return score all season long, and the Rams have developed a reputation for being “tricky” in that department: its recovered surprise onside kicks and executed fake punts successfully in multiple notable situations this year.
“Our special teams have been very special,” said Valdez. “Teams have had to prepare accordingly, because never know what they’re going to get.”