Rival Rebels, Rams square off

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 16, 2014


EDGARD — Riverside coach Bill Stubbs mused a second about his team’s wild showdown with West St. John last season.

“Against West St. John, for sure, you have to be ready for anything,” Stubbs said. 

Riverside visits West St. John for a rivalry rematch this week in a game pitting the No. 5 ranked teams in Class 2A and 1A respectively against one another. 

 “We’re expecting a playoff-like atmosphere,” West St. John coach Robert Valdez said. “They’re undefeated. We’re undefeated. They beat Evangel and a good Loranger team. 

“They’re an experienced team and when you watch the film, the guys doing the damage are a lot of the usual suspects. They aren’t showing much of a drop off at all without (former quarterback) Deuce Wallace.”

Both teams have shown a flair for the dramatic so far this season. Riverside’s opening 36-30 win at Evangel came after a late rally from nine points down with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, including a kickoff return for a score and a game-tying safety. The Rams, meanwhile, lost a 29-0 lead against St. James only to recover for a 39-30 win over the Wildcats, then last week defeated visiting Bogalusa on a touchdown pass from Jemoine Green to Morell Bartholomew with just over a minute remaining. 

Last season, host Riverside held on for a 35-32 victory over West St. John in a wild game that saw the Rebels clinch on a first down run by 300-plus pound defensive tackle Richie George — who carried the ball again last week. An interception by the Rebels’ Brandon Hymel helped thwart a West St. John fourth quarter comeback. 

That game featured two onside kicks and two fake punts by the Rams. Three of those four calls worked, with the lone exception a fake punt conversion called back by penalty. The other fake punt went for a 60-yard touchdown.

“I didn’t guard us as well as I should have on special teams (before last year’s game),” Riverside coach Bill Stubbs said. “It was a learning experience. We’re working on that diligently this week … West St. John’s a challenge to prepare for not just from the X’s and O’s standpoint, but also mentally, because it’s a rivalry game.”

A key matchup will be a young West St. John offensive line against a large and talented Riverside defensive front. George, Joe Anderson, Brandon Ralser and Thaddeus Andry are the main cogs along the defensive line.

“So big, strong and fast,” Valdez said. “They’ve got five or six excellent lineman that they can rotate, and they’re huge. We’ve got to be able to block them. If we can’t block them, nothing we draw up will work. It won’t be easy.”

Another key matchup comes with the Riverside receivers against the West St. John secondary. Von Julien, Herb McGee and Darrion Cook lead the Rebel receiving corps, with Julien coming off a huge game of 197 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The Rams secondary is no slouch. Trey Nathan plays a “Kenny Vaccaro”-like safety/linebacker hybrid role, Jamal Walters already has three interceptions this season, and Tre’Von Borne picked off two passes last week. 

“Not many teams have three solid defensive backs to cover those guys,” Valdez said. “So it’s kind of a pick your poison type deal.”

By the same token, the Rebels’ secondary must find a way to blanket 6’4” receiver Bartholomew, who’s hauled in four touchdown passes this season.

“6’4” is 6’4”,” Stubbs said. “They’re balanced. I don’t know that you try to bracket him, but we have to be aware of him. What can help us there is to put a little pressure on the quarterback.”

Speaking of passers: each team boasts a first-year starting quarterback that hasn’t yet tasted defeat through two weeks. 

Green and Rebels’ quarterback Jordan Loving have each impressed the opposing coach with their play so far.

“(Green) is solid and better at this stage than I’d have expected,” Stubbs said. “He isn’t doing anything reckless. He’s got a big, tall kid (Bartholomew) to target downfield. They’re always a call away from going the distance.”

Valdez said Loving has shown a lot of fortitude in wins over Evangel and Loranger.

“He’s a big, big kid,” Valdez said. “They don’t ask him to run a lot or do too much. He’s the mail carrier. He delivers the ball to their playmakers, and they make you defend the entire field. And when they mix in Herb McGee at quarterback, that’s another big dimension we have to account for.”