AIMING FOR THE DOME: St. John hosts Haynesville in 1A semifinals

Tryve Brackin
CASEY TOUSSANT…created the first score of the night for St. John with a 65-yard pass reception and a TD and continued to show senior poise and great speed for the victorious Eagles Friday night.

St. John, 12-1 overall, lines up tonight in the state semifinals at Green Devil Stadium against a legendary football program, but one that has done no better or worse in recent years that the local favorites. The winner of the SJJHS-Haynesville High contest tomorrow will face the winner of the other state semifinals game, either Oak Grove High or defending state champ South Plaquemines High, in the La. Superdome next weekend in New Orleans for the Class A grid crown.

This will be SJHS’ third appearance in a home-game state semifinals game. The 1998 Eagles beat Mangham High to earn a berth against Kentwood in that year’s title match. And then the 2006 Eagle club topped Southern Lab to net a state title berth against Evangel Christian. The only other time a SJHS grid team reached the state semifinals, they lost on the road at Opelousas Catholic. Former longtime mentor Erik Willis coached St. John in all three semifinals games. He considers the victories over Mangham and Lab his greatest wins.

Now, three seasons after the last semifinals berth a St. John football team finds itself back at home with a new coaching staff under the direction of second-year mentor Barry “Tut” Musemeche. Again the local school’s football team is ranked number one and again they face a formidable foe.

The 11-2 Haynesville Golden Tornado swirls its way back down to Iberville Parish after a trip to White Castle High and a 67-42 victory in the state regionals two weekends ago.

The stage is set for what could be St. John High’s third consecutive banner state semifinals football home field victory over the last dozen years.

St. John, now 12-1 overall, lines up tomorrow (Friday) night in the state semifinals at Green Devil Stadium against a legendary football program, but one that has done no better or worse in recent years that the local favorites. The winner of the SJJHS-Haynesville High contest tomorrow will face the winner of the other state semifinals game, either Oak Grove High or defending state champ South Plaquemines High, in the La. Superdome next weekend in New Orleans for the Class A grid crown.

This will be SJHS’ third appearance in a home-game state semifinals game. The 1998 Eagles beat Mangham High to earn a berth against Kentwood in that year’s title match. And then the 2006 Eagle club topped Southern Lab to net a state title berth against Evangel Christian. The only other time a SJHS grid team reached the state semifinals, they lost on the road at Opelousas Catholic. Former longtime mentor Erik Willis coached St. John in all three semifinals games. He considers the victories over Mangham and Lab his greatest wins.

This year’s Eagle gridiron club reached the “Final Four” of Class A football Friday night

with a routing 47-6 victory over 25th-seeded visitor Grambling Lab. The gift of a number one seeding in the state playoffs helped the local Eagles faced the lowest seed team in the state quarterfinals last week, leaving them only two victories away from a possible school first-ever boys’ state championship.

The Golden Tornado brings with it a historic record of high school football accomplishment…14 state titles and 30 consecutive trips to the state playoffs. However, the Haynesville boys cannot quite claim what St. John achieved in 2006: A recent state title game berth. And, the Eagles have been quite successful the two years, while playing in the state 2-A ranks, back-to-back trips to state regional competition.

St. John, the only private school left in the Single A playoffs, does not hold its head down to any foe. They have played some of the very best teams in the state playoffs in recent seasons: multiple champion John Curtis, multiple champ Evangel, a Chad Jones-led Southern Lab team, 2006 state runner-up Opelousas CHS.

Tomorrow night’s game features a savvy playoff-wise and well-coached Haynesville High team against a savvy playoff-wise well-coached SJHS ball club. Put on your high sneakers and winter coat and get ready for some football!

SJHS 47, Grambling 6:

St. John’s Eagles had the best flight of the holiday week Friday night: No long waits at the Atlanta airport, no winter storm delays in Chicago, no overnight sleeps in Boise, Idaho.

Nope, the Eagles soared thanks to a great seeding and a quarterfinals foe that way overachieved until they saw fireworks in Plaquemine during the national anthem and for 60 minutes of football afterward.

After a pair of slow-starts in playoff wins over Christian Life and Ouachita Christian the Eagles went from “Cardiac Birds” to “Thunderbirds” Friday night at PHS. St. John flew higher than Delta Airlines while the Eagle coaching staff didn’t fall asleep at the wheel and overshoot their destination.

The Eagles did everything right and continuously hit a sonic BOOM from the wee early stages of the 47-6 rout to “Let’s play some of the second stringers” in the waning minutes. Grambling did manage to break out of a possible shutout finish to its season in the final six minutes, but that only appeared to be a gift from the Eagles. It was a totally dominant performance as it should have been from a top-seed playing a 25th seed.

Hand it to the SJHS offensive line and the nomadic duo of former North Iberville standouts Casey Toussant and Stephen Williams to help get things soaring early in Friday night’s “On Time Flight”. Pinpoint passes from junior quarterback Mike Martinez also played a hand, as did the continued furious running of senior back Josh Johnson. And, of course, that shutdown Eagle defense also helped the Eagle fans feel they were riding First Class all the way to their tropical vacation destination.

A fumbled snap on the first play from scrimmage was just a rev of the jet motors for the Eagle offense and Martinez flipped a pass perfectly into the hands of Toussant down the left side. The speedy Eagle back took off and just did get bumped out of bounds at the Grambling 11. No sweat, Continental passengers…Toussant at the Controls! The senior back took a handoff from Martinez and darted the final 11 yards to pay dirt on the very next play and the rout was on. Two plays, a 65-yard pass grab and run and an 11-yard dash, and Toussant and the Eagle offense was up 6-0.

Enter the stewardess: Peanuts and a soft drink? Lab losses two yards, gains two yards, and senior linebacker Ryan Suarez comes up with a Grambling fumble at the 20-yardline. It was Thanksgiving all over again on Black Friday. “Coffee, sir?”

First play and Johnson gets the call. Off he goes right through the Grambling defense. A 20-yard jaunt and the senior back puts the Eagles ahead 12-0. Da’vante Williams breaks through for a two-point conversion and the Eagles are up 14-0 with only four minutes left to the first quarter flight.

Again, the Eagle defense stands strong. Grambling losses seven yards, picks it back up, but then has to punt away. Johnson rambles for a first down and then Martinez finds the former Bear, Stephen Williams, wide open, yet again down the Eagle sidelines and on the right side of the Lab defense. Williams makes the grab and is off to the races. He kicks on the jets and pulls away from the Grambling defenders just inside the 30-yardline and goes the distance, 73 yards to the end zone. SJHS goes ahead 20-0.

A tackle behind the line by freshman defensive tackle Curtis Jones forces Grambling into a hole. They decide not to go for a first down on a fourth and two situation and punt away again. All this happens after Dylan Borruano makes an Eagle “Signature” hit on the kickoff as SJHS continues to stun its quarterfinals foe.

St. John goes on yet another threatening drive. Only a holding flag stops them. Martinez barrels nine yards up the middle to open the drive. Da’vante Williams and Kaleb Campesi crack their way for a pair of first-down runs. Johnson adds a third before a holding flag on a third and short pushes the Eagles back.

A stop of SJHS’ offense gives the Lab club a bit of momentary momentum. Grambling picks up three-straight first downs, but Suarez and Toussant step it up on defense. Grambling attempts to throw on a fourth and four situation and senior cornerback Case Randazzo sweeps in to intercept the errant pass and returns it from inside the Eagle five to the 28-yardline.

Three plays later, Da’vante Williams takes off on a 38-yard run. Grambling gets hit for a five-yard penalty and then Martinez and Stephen Williams play pitch and catch again for a 17-yard TD pass play this time around. Johnson tallies on a two-point conversion and the Eagles take a huge 28-0 advantage with halftime looming as the only saving grace for the visitors.

Jones and Dakota Richard gang up for a QB sack to end the next Lab series, but the Eagles suffer their only turnover of the game with a fumble. A big tackle behind the lines by Herman Fitch pushes the Grambling boys back a good 24 yards as the half ends. Toussant takes off on a long run for added gloom on the visitors before rest time in the dressing room provides the only mercy.

So what happens in the third period? Well, let’s just put it this way…The Grambling boys probably would have preferred taking a miserable 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sidney, Australia than played more football against the Eagles.

Grambling fumbles away possession on the second half kickoff and St. John scores on the very next play. Martinez links up with Da’vante Williams for a 17-yard touchdown pass and the Eagles immediately take a 34-0 lead.

Grambling makes a couple of good offensive gains, but the Eagles control. A pass interference call on St. John gives Lab good field position, but solid defense, led by Toussant, Corey David, and Warren Bates keeps the visitors out of the end zone.

The Eagle offense decides enough of this and goes on a 79-yard scoring drive that eats up the clock and lasts until the early part of the final period. SJHS runs off 17-straight plays. Only two are passes, one for a short touchdown. The rest are runs. Martinez, Campesi, Bates, Johnson, David, Da’vante Williams, and Toussant carry the pigskin down the field. Williams contributes a pair of long runs for first downs, covering 16 and 15 yards. Martinez hits Bates for a first down pass at the Grambling five on a fourth and 10 situation. Johnson gets the ball down to the one and Martinez fires a pass to a wide-open Da’vante Williams on the edge of the goal line. He steps over for his second TD pass grab of the game and for Martinez’s fourth touchdown throw of the game.

The contest is basically over at this point. Grambling does show some resilience by taking advantage of a young SJHS kickoff team to set up its only points of the game with good field position. The Labsters hit on a 46-yard TD pass, QB Rockese Goree to JaMarcus Markray to make it a 40-6 score.

St. John responses quickly.  Senior linebacker Corey David gets repaid by the SJHS coaching staff for his defensive leadership. He gets to play some offensive back for the second time in the game. David breaks free, shows his good foot speed and outruns the Grambling defense for a 45-yard touchdown. Connor Case hits the PAT and the Eagles take their 47-6 victory, but not before Bates comes up with a game-ending pass interception as Grambling threatens to score again against a patchwork Eagle defense.

The Eagles close out with 285 yards rushing and 193 yards passing for a 478-yard showing. Martinez turns in one of his best games of the season as he hits 8 of 11 passes for 193 yards and four touchdowns. Eight different Eagles get handoffs and carry the football. Da’vante Williams led the way with 94 yards rushing and a pair of TD pass receptions. SJHS had only one fumble and four flags for 45 negative yards.

On the defensive end, the Eagles were just as impressive. Grambling gained only five first downs and a mere five yards rushing. They also were limited to only 122 yards passing. Grambling had two passes intercepted and lost a trio of fumbles to the Eagles.

It will not as easy for St. John tomorrow night, but the Eagles proved Friday night they can “Fight the Friendly Skies” of victory pretty doggone far into the state playoffs.