Rebels, Wildcats open district

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, September 23, 2014


ST. JAMES — Riverside isn’t done with the River Region’s west bank just yet.

After emerging from its battle of undefeated teams at West St. John with a 44-21 victory and a 3-0 record, the Rebels now turn their attention to St. James, which is coming off its first victory of the season in a dominant effort against Vandebilt Catholic.

Last season, the Rebels made quick work of the Wildcats, 48-14 winners in the District 8-2A opener for both teams. 

Though the Rebels, ranked No. 3 in the latest Class 2A LSWA poll, enter this matchup as the favorite, RA coach Bill Stubbs has no illusions his team will be facing the same Wildcats.

“They’re hugely improved,” Stubbs said. “I know, because I watched them after we played them last season and saw them keep on getting better until the state quarterfinals. They’re all young and they’ve got a year in their system now. They had a lot of young guys learning the system who are just much more seasoned now.

“And then, of course, you’ve got the Narcisse kid …”

Through three starts, SJH quarterback Lowell Narcisse has completed 51 of 92 passes for 699 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. As a rusher, he’s been very dangerous, gaining 8.8 yards per carry on 46 attempts for 406 yards and six touchdowns. Narcisse has also rushed for four two-point conversions. 

He’s spread the wealth around in terms of his receivers: Dontaza Costly has 12 receptions for 134 yards. Tailback Houston Wiggins has 11 catches for 152 yards. Eleven different Wildcats have posted a reception so far. 

Stubbs summed his game up in one word: scary. 

“When you face that kind of player, you have to be disciplined in what you do,” he said. “Yes, we need to pressure him, but you can’t be reckless about it. He’s at his best when the play breaks down and he’s on the move.”

Defensively, linebacker Aquindas Steib has picked up where he left off last postseason, leading the Wildcats in total tackles with 26. The Wildcats also mix Steib in on offense—he rushed for a score last week. Jai Lewis and Tevin Gros have each recorded 26 and 23 tackles, respectively. 

“Jai Lewis has moved from outside linebacker to more of a true safety role this season,” St. James coach Dwain Jenkins said. “He’s really been able to turn it on. He was a playmaker last year for us, and now he’s doing that, but he’s added the ability to play within the system. He’s really come on strong.”

Last week, St. James (1-2) earned the first win in the history of its new home stadium, the Wildcats besting Vandebilt Catholic 36-17 behind Narcisse’s 261 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.  

“The biggest thing last week was we got off to a good start,” Jenkins said. “We’d been digging ourselves a hole, putting our defense in a bad position early in games. We finally got out of that funk.”

Last season, Riverside downed St. James 48-14 in what was the Wildcats’ final loss of the 25-game losing streak the team snapped last season. Top Rebels’ receiver Herb McGee hurt the Wildcats in that contest, hauling in eight receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown. 

The Rebels’ defense limited Narcisse in that game, though the sophomore was forced from the game with a back injury. 

Riverside forced five turnovers against West St. John Friday night. Safety Kendall Martin has collected five turnovers of his own this season — four interceptions and a fumble recovery — while Jake Venus and Richie George each have scored defensive touchdowns off turnovers this season. 

Avoiding the turnover is a must if St. James is to push the Rebels on Friday. Jenkins alluded to bad starts in games this season, but it was also the case last year at Riverside. SJH fumbled on the very first play of the game, and on St. James’ third  offensive play, Narcisse threw a “pick six.”

“We saw it first hand,” Jenkins said. “After three offensive plays, we’re down 14-0.”

On the season, the Rebels have forced 15 total turnovers, a much improved mark from last year at this time.

Stubbs said that is no accident. 

“It doesn’t happen by luck,” he said. “Coach (Chris) Lachney and our defensive coaches really work hard at making sure our guys are in the best position to make plays. Then, of course, the kids on the field are really stepping up. One thing we’re doing a lot more of is these guys are bringing something when they hit you. They’re flying to the ball.

“Fifteen turnovers, that’s five a game. I don’t know how many teams can survive on five giveaways. Our players wear it like a badge of honor.”