East St. John ready for rematch of wild 2013 district opener, will host Tarpons

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014





EDGARD — Holy Cross pitched a 23-0 shutout at home against West St. John last season, a score that belied how well the Rams’ defense played, allowing just one offensive touchdown in the game.

But the score indeed reflected the struggles of a Rams offense facing off with am much bigger, deeper defensive unit.

As the Rams prepare to host Holy Cross this Friday night, WSJ coach Robert Valdez said this is a game that goes a long way in preparing his team for the long haul.

“They’re huge,” Valdez said. “They’ve played in close games all year, all against 5A competition. We won’t see anyone with their size or depth again, so this is a game that’ll get us ready. It’s win-win in a lot of ways for us.”

While the game setup may be “win-win,” Valdez said getting another “win” in the standings is the ultimate goal. 

“We’re going out there Friday night for nothing short of a win,” he said. “But to do that, we need to make sure we don’t make the mistakes we did a year ago, or for that matter the same mistakes we did last week. Our defense was on the field most of the first half (against Riverside). We need to do a better job taking care of the ball and controlling the tempo of the game.”

Holy Cross is 2-1 this season, with victories over 5A Chalmette and Sulphur and a three-point loss to Covington in the season’s opening week. 

The Tigers are fresh off a rivalry victory, besting Chalmette 21-14 last week. Tailback Tre’ Turner led Holy Cross, rushing for 87 yards on 20 carries and scoring a 40-yard touchdown on fourth-and-4 to generate the eventual winning points. Turner also had a big game against Sulphur, gaining 160 yards with two long touchdown runs. The Tigers don’t lean on quarterback Kyle Schexnayder to throw 25-plus times a game, but he’s guided the offense to a steady start thus far, averaging 25.3 points per game under first-year coach Eric Rebaudo. 

The Rams (2-1) will have to keep Georgia-committed wide receiver Michael Chigbu under wraps on Friday as well. The 6’2”, 211 pound senior playmaker is rated as a four-star prospect by both Rivals.com and ESPN. Chigbu hauled in 10 receptions for 161 yards and a touchdown over the past two weeks.  

That could light a fire under the Rams’ own playmaking receiver. Morell Bartholomew is off to a torrid start with six touchdown receptions over his first three games. He’s totaled at least 69 yards receiving in each contest. 

“Oh, I think it’s definitely (motivating),” Valdez said. “You’re facing a team with an SEC commitment, which means people are going to be watching this film. For us, in order to stop (Chigbu), the best thing would be for us to get pressure on the quarterback. We were able to do that last year and it helped us bottle him up a bit.”

Pressuring the passer will be a group effort, led by ends Covan Borne and Dontell Louper and Da’Jon Taylor,  the latter of which just returned to action last week from a fractured jaw. 


East St. John coach Phillip Banko remembers his team’s last matchup with District 7-5A rival South Lafourche.

“It was a wild, 35-34 ballgame over at their place,” Banko said. “I don’t expect anything less this time around.”

This year’s ESJ/South Lafourche clash takes place in Reserve, with the Wildcats hosting their district opener. 

The teams enter the game with identical 1-2 records. 

“Both teams are going to be hungry,” Banko said. “But we’re in district, now. That means we may as well be 0-0.”

South Lafourche has yet to play in a close game this season. The Tarpons scored a decisive 49-8 win over South Plaquemines in Week Two, but found themselves on the wrong end of a 54-15 loss to Landry-Walker in Week One and a 56-15 loss to Shaw last week. 

Shaw scored on eight straight possessions in the win over SLHS. Banko, however, said his team has its own issues to fix defensively, after its 42-13 loss to John Curtis Friday. 

“What’s key for us is to not give up big plays, and Friday against Curtis, we didn’t accomplish what we set out to do in that respect,” Banko said. 

“If we had in any capacity … we were toe-to-toe with them early. But then boom, boom, boom, boom, you get four big plays in a row and now you’re down big.”

Offensively, the Wildcats gained nearly 400 yards of total offense against a strong Curtis defense, rushing for more than 200 of those yards.

Quarterback Xavier Lewis and running back Nigel Anderson power the rushing attack as ballcarriers, but a completely revamped East St. John offensive line is paving the way. ESJ lost all five starters from a year ago to graduation, but a starting unit of Alton Webb, Shan Williams III, Alvin McQuirter, DeQuan Gibson and Nathan Robinson are starting to gel after an early season trial by fire against Rummel, Scotlandville and Curtis. 

“They keep getting better,” Banko said. “Coach (John) Lambert and coach (Roy) Oxmon have done a fine job working with those guys and getting them ready. Our execution is getting there up front. We’re excited about how that’s come along.”

South Lafourche quarterback Harvey Allen is a dual threat. He passed for 214 yards, a touchdown and an interception, while rushing for 78 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a great athlete,” Banko said. “He’s one of those guys who can speed by you.”

“They spread you out, motion to an empty backfield … they make you account for all the areas on the field.”

Defensively, blocking defensive tackle Marvel Bourgeois (6’, 285 lbs.) and linebacker Matthew Richardel are the big challenges.