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St. James prepares for Kinder in 2A quarters


St. James quarterback Lowell Narcisse (2) sprints past Sterlington's Calvin Clay during last week's playoff game in St. James. (Photo by Chris Heller/Staff)


St. James used a little home-field magic to pull off a 42-40 Class 2A second-round playoff win over Sterlington on Nov. 22 at Wildcats Stadium.

After giving their fans another thrilling home win in their final season at the 64-year-old Wildcats Stadium, St. James will have to take its show on the road for its next playoff game against Kinder High at 7 p.m. Friday at John C. Buck Stadium in Kinder.

St. James is seeded at No. 22 in the Class 2A playoffs, while Kinder is No. 3. The winner of Friday’s game will advance to play either No. 2 Winnfield or No. 7 Vinton in the Class 2A semifinals next week.

St. James coach Dwain Jenkins said it has been a season full of ups and downs. The Wildcats are playing in the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2008, which was the year they finished as Class 2A state runner-up.  

“It has been an emotional ride throughout the course of the season, but we went out to practice on Monday and went back to work,” Jenkins said. “We’re just going to try to find a way to get better this week. We want to put together four good days of practice and go out and play on Friday night.”

As the lowest seeded team left in the Class 2A playoffs, Jenkins said he understands that there aren’t many people who expected the Wildcats to advance to the quarterfinal round, but he feels that his program is coming around and starting to play its best football of the season.

“As I told my team earlier this week, we don’t have to be better than all 32 teams that made the playoffs. We just have to be better for 48 minutes,” Jenkins said. “At this point, you’re just trying to get better for Friday night. If you move on, you get another week to keep playing. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Jenkins said he doesn’t believe the Thanksgiving Day holiday will serve as a distraction for the Wildcats. During its fall break earlier this season, St. James were out of school for three days before its 35-0 win over South Plaquemines on Oct. 18.

“That was probably our best performance of the season coming off those three days off from school and playing, so hopefully we can match up that same routine for Friday,” Jenkins said.

Here are three things to look for in Friday’s game.

 

BATTLE OF FIRST-YEAR COACHES

Both St. James and Kinder are led by two first-year head coaches.

Jenkins has guided the Wildcats to a 6-6 record in his first season, while Bret Fuselier has led the Yellow Jackets to a 11-1 record and a District 4-2A championship in his debut year in Kinder.

After snapping a 25-game losing streak early this season, the Wildcats went from a team that started 0-4 to winning two playoff games over Lake Arthur (first-round) and Sterlington (second-round).

Jenkins credited St. James’ work ethic as the reason for its turnaround. 

“We’ve kind of grown throughout the season,” Jenkins said. “When we were 0-4, we continued to work hard and get better each and every day. That’s been our focus. I think that mentality has helped us get to this point.”

Kinder, which defeated No. 30 Istrouma, 41-0, in the Class 2A first-round and No. 19 Homer, 35-6, in the second-round, is averaging 33.2 points per game this season under Fuselier. The Yellow Jackets have outscored their opponents 200-52 in six home games this season, and they are led by quarterback Austin Pickle, running back Jordan Vickers and receiver Welles Cooley.

“Kinder has had a lot of success at home this season,” Jenkins said. “They play offense real well, and it seems like the last couple of weeks, the offense has been able to get on track. They will be a difficult team to play.”

STINGY JACKETS DEFENSE

The big showdown of Friday’s game will be St. James’ high-scoring offense against Kinder’s stingy defense.

The Wildcats are averaging close to 30 points per game, and they have scored 40 or more points in five games this year. Kinder’s defense has allowed just nine points per game, and the most it has given up this season was in a 28-20 win over Oberlin on Sept. 13.

“Their defense is their strong point,” Jenkins said. “They have only gave up three touchdowns in a game one time in a game this season, so we have our work cut out for us offensively.”

Jenkins said the Wildcats must continue to score early and often. In its two playoff wins, St. James has outscored its opponents 62-21 in the first half.

St. James freshman quarterback Lowell Narcisse continues to standout. He has passed for 417 total yards and six touchdowns, and he has five rushing scores in the playoffs. Senior receiver D’Kwan Sandolph has 14 catches for 303 yards and four touchdowns receiving in the playoffs. He also had a touchdown pass against Sterlington.

Jenkins said St. James will try to continue its aggressive approach on offense.

“Our passing game had success last week,” Jenkins said. “We want make people defend the whole field, and it gives us a chance to have success on offense.”

 

DEFENDING THE RUN

While St. James’ offense has generated impressive offensive numbers in the playoffs, its defense has surrendered large amounts of rushing yards.

The Wildcats defense gave up 328 rushing yards against Lake Arthur and 505 rushing yards (521 total) against Sterlington.

St. James has allowed big yardage, but Jenkins said they have made stops when needed. The Wildcats turned two interceptions (from Tredell Celestin and Angelios Washington) into 14 quick points during their 35-14 first-half explosion against Sterlington.

“The key is to cause some turnovers at critical points of the game, and on offense, we’ve been able to take advantage of it,” Jenkins said. “A lot of the scores we’ve given up, we’ve made teams earn it by having to drive the length of the field to score ... I think the experience from last week’s game is going to benefit us.”