Spartans, Gators in must-win situation

Peter Silas Pasqua
East Ascension and St. Amant will rely on sophomore quarterbacks when they renew their rivalry Friday night at The Pit. East Ascension quarterback Emerson Foster, left, has completed 20 of 56 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns, while St. Amant quarterback Jaylin LeBlanc has amassed 514 yards in the air this season, completing 31 of 69 passes with two touchdowns.

East Ascension head coach John Lambert and St. Amant head coach David Oliver said both teams are approaching the return of the classic parish rivalry as they do any game.

“We approach every game the same,” Lambert said. “We have had a great week of practice and our kids have worked really hard. I just think if we go out and execute, don’t fumble the football and turnover it over, we can win this football game but we have to execute. That is the bottom line.”

The game will mark the first in the rivalry for Oliver as head coach of St. Amant.

“We are going into the game like we go into every game,” Oliver said. “We are going to play hard and try to play fast for 48 minutes and try to get a win.”

The game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at The Pit.

East Ascension (1-5, 0-2) and St. Amant (0-6, 0-2) are both in desperate need of a win. The Spartans fell, 31-8, to Hahnville last week, while St. Amant was shutout, 24-0, by No. 2 Destrehan after a scoreless first half. The winner will remain in the District 5-5A race with a possible playoff berth, while the loser will all but be eliminated from playoff contention.

“I think they have played a buzzsaw schedule just like we have,” Lambert said. “They didn’t have a single break. Every team that they have played is going to the playoffs like us. St. Amant has tons of young kids, just like us, and are playing a unbelievably tough schedule and when you put young kids in those situations and in this district, these are the results that you get. It is a building process on both sides for us and them. There isn’t any doubt that it is hard but if you are going to continue to build a program, you have to keep pushing forward.”

After four years as the season opener for both teams with East Ascension in Class 4A, the game was moved back to the latter half of the season last year when the Spartans moved back up to 5A. East Ascension broke a three-game losing streak in the series (the 2005 game was canceled due to Hurricane Katrina) with a 21-14 win at St. Amant two years ago, but the Gators defeated the Spartans 38-21 on the road last season and still hold a 15-13 lead after taking 11 of the last 14.

“I think it is a great rivalry,” Lambert said. “I think it is an unbelievable situation where you have two communities who work together to help these kids right up till one night of the year when we hope we beat them silly and they are hoping that they beat us silly. It really is a community rivalry and a wonderful situation that I am glad to be a part of.”

The two schools’ booster clubs have also brought back the giant prep rally, Shout Out, held Thursday night to involve the communities and raise funds for activities following a two-year hiatus.

“I think this is a game these kids are going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Oliver said. “We started seeing that this week. We went to the Shout Out golf tournament and saw all these former players wearing their jerseys and reminiscing about the games in the ’70s, ‘’80s and ’90s. This a game these kids will remember forever, so I don’t think either team is going to have a problem getting up and getting that emotion ready to go.”

St. Amant has returned to the triple option under offensive coordinator Doug Moreau this season. The Gators were limited to just 136 yards total offense last week against Destrehan. Sophomore quarterback Jaylin LeBlanc has amassed 514 yards in the air this season, completing 31 of 69 passes with two touchdowns and has added 216 yards rushing on 78 attempts scoring four touchdowns.

Junior Tre` Vaughn has led the Gators ground attack this season rushing for 296 yards on 46 carries, while senior Adrian Bourgeois has added 284 yards 47 attempts and junior Nelson Jointer has contributed 195 yards on 38 attempts. St. Amant’s top receivers are Anthony Bonadona who has caught 11 passes for 214 yards and Chase Keller who has hauled in nine catches for 113 yards.

“We are going to have to convert third downs, stay out of third and long and eliminate turnovers,” Oliver said. “Those are our keys on offense. They are fast on defense and they fly to the ball. I think they have a good scheme. Every defense has some strengths and weaknesses and in every game plan we create, we try to line up our strengths with their weaknesses and attack them from that standpoint.”

East Ascension’s defense has been the backbone of the Spartans this season under defensive coordinator Jason Brown despite giving up 256 yards of total offense last week. Senior safety Matt Richard led the charge with nine tackles, while sophomore Wade Julien added eight stops including one sack. Senior Trey Griggs provided seven tackles and seniors Ryan Moll, Chase Thomas, Blake Hill and Andrew Parms each had five tackles.

“On defense, we have to be disciplined,” Lambert said. “You have to be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there and if you aren’t, they will pop. Nearly every game this year St. Amant has played, they have broke one long run somewhere and it is because one kid wasn’t where he was supposed to be so it is important for our kids to understand that while it is assignment football, it is discipline.”

East Ascension’s offense under  has been shut out of the end zone three times this season and are only averaging 6.6 points per game. Junior running back Avery Williams has rushed for 457 yards on 102 carries scoring three touchdowns, including a 34-yard pass reception for a score last week. Sophomore quarterback Emerson Foster has completed 20 of 56 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns in only three starts. Top receivers have been Justin Pelle, who has hauled in seven passes for 115 yards, Bradley Day, who has caught nine passes for 92 yards and Nathan Ray, who has four receptions for 46 yards.

“We are going to try to mix it up,” Lambert said. “If we can control the line of scrimmage, we can do two things. We can run to set up the pass and we can pass to set up the run. It just depends on what is clicking. We have had a good week of practice and I hope that if we can just go out and not commit any turnovers, that we can drive the football and win this game.”

St. Amant’s defense under defensive coordinator Dwayne Thomassee has struggled defending the pass giving up more than 100 yards in the air in four of their losses to Central, St. Charles Catholic, East St. John and Destrehan. Senior linebackers Zach Whittington and Jake Roberts lead the charge, while juniors Justin Bumgardner and Marvin Martin anchor the line and seniors P.J. Brown, Wayne Douglas and Shannon Lucas man the secondary.

“Defensively, we are going to have to tackle well,” Oliver said. “I see an offense that has improved every week. They have a young quarterback very similar to us that has kind of grown into the role. They have some decent skill guys and we are going to have to wrap up and tackle because if we don’t, they have enough skill guys to make you look silly in a hurry.”

Both coaches are expecting a close, well-played game worth the history of the storied rivalry.

“Basically, it is like backing two wildcats into a corner and they have to fight there way out and it is a situation where whoever fights the hardest and has the ball last wins this football game,” Lambert said. “I look forward to it. I think it is going to be a fun Friday.”

“I think it is two pretty evenly matched teams in the same stages of their programs trying to rebuild,” Oliver said. “I think with the emotion and enthusiasm for the rivalry, this is going to be an extremely close, well-played football game. We feel like we are ready to play this game. EA is going to be ready. We love to play them. We love this game. We are excited for Friday night.”

St. Amant travels to Dutchtown next week, while East Ascension heads to Destrehan.