East St. John finishes strong in Friday night thriller for 29-28 playoff win

Published 12:50 pm Saturday, November 12, 2022

RESERVE — East St. John came out on top during a Friday night thriller against Walker at Joe Keller Stadium Friday night in the first round of the non-select Division I playoffs.

Coach Brandon Brown said the word of the week was “finish,” and that’s precisely what the St. John the Baptist Parish Wildcats did to earn the 29-28 win as the game came down to the wire.

“We started the season 8-0. Unfortunately, we dropped two games, but last night we went out there and finished,” Brown said. “Everybody understands at this point that if you lose, you go home. We knew that Walker was a really good team and that they would fight.”

East St. John entered the playoffs with an 8-2 record and a No. 11 seeding compared to Walker’s No. 22 stance, but Brown knew the visiting Wildcats were not to be underestimated.

The ‘E’ was off to a strong offensive start in the first half.

Quarterback Yashua Mitchell connected with receiver Koyal Gray early on to put East St. John on the scoreboard first. The next two touchdowns of game came from passes between Mitchell and Dkai Joseph to give the home-based Wildcats a lofty 20-0 lead in the second quarter. Before halftime, Walker answered with a drive from CJ McClendon to make the score 20-7.

Walker came back with fury in the back half of the game, just as Brown had predicted.

“In the second half, they made some great adjustments. They came out doing some things that we haven’t seen all year, offensively and defensively. It took us a little while to get settled, but once we settled down, it turned into a really good ball game,” Brown said.

A Walker touchdown pass in the third quarter was followed by an onside kick recovery that threw East St. John through a loop. Walker followed up with a touchdown run and a two-point conversion to take the lead, 21-20.

East St. John took the lead back about halfway through the fourth quarter with a field goal to make the score 23-21, but Walker answered with a long drive and a touchdown to make the score 28-23 with hardly more than a minute remaining in the game.

East St. John’s Mitchell and Joseph took the “finish strong” message to heart, connecting for a touchdown and putting the ‘E’ back on top, 29-28.

Walker nearly sealed a victory on a final attempt for a field goal that ultimately failed.

In addition to the offensive leadership from Mitchell, Joseph and Gray, Brown also witnessed strong defensive contributions from Jamarion Zeno, Kyvan Fobb and Jerry Phillips.

With Friday’s thriller ending in a ‘W’, East St. John will continue building brick-by-brick in the regional round of the playoffs against Haughton.

The ‘E’ already learned from Walker that seeding doesn’t guarantee an easy victory. This week, No. 27 Haughton upset No. 6 Airline 36-26 after losing to the same team only a few weeks earlier.

“Haughton and Airline played about three weeks ago, and it was kind of close the first time they played. I knew looking at the brackets that it could go either way,” Brown said. “Haughton is a really good opponent. At this time of year, who plays the best ball will continue playing.”

Brown invites members of the community who are able to make the five-hour journey to cheer the Wildcats on in the regional round.