By Peter Pasqua
LUTCHER – St. James High School overcame three turnovers to score the winning touchdown in the closing seconds and defeat parish rival Lutcher for the second year in a row 29-26 Friday night at the Dog Pound.
The Wildcats (2-0), under third-year head coach Robert Valdez and ranked No. 7 in the Louisiana Sportswriters Association Class 3A poll, were out-gained in total yardage 386-359 but ran more total plays than the Bulldogs 63-52.
Lutcher (0-2), also under a third-year coach in Dwain Jenkins and the No. 16 team in Class 4A, fell for the second year in a row after a 13-7 loss to St. James last year. It was the 40th regular season meeting between the two schools with a combined 12 state titles and separated only by the Mississippi River.
The schools met three times in the postseason including the Class 3A state championship game in 2015 won by Lutcher and the series is now tied 21-21-1.
Wildcat junior quarterback Shamar Smith overcame two fumbles deep in Lutcher territory in each half to throw the winning 5-yard touchdown to Tyshone Williams with just eight seconds remaining. Smith finished 10-of-17 passing for 130 yards and carried 22 times for 108 yards.
Senior running back Dontaz Sterling rushed for three touchdowns and 97 yards on 16 attempts for St. James and Logan Gravois had three receptions for 74 yards.
Lutcher senior quarterback Kolby Bourgeois completed 15-of-23 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns and fellow senior running back Rondell Mealey rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries adding five receptions for 49 yards. Rashon Williams caught three passes for 100 yards and a score and Adrian Butler added a receiving touchdown.
Defensively, Jacoby Williams, Rhett Whitney and Carter Poche each had fumble recoveries for Lutcher and Jamal Thomas and Seth LeBlanc added sacks while Savion Jones and DeAndre` Keller had sacks for St. James.
Smith spun to his left and fired to Williams who came back to the ball just inside the left pylon for the winning score to cap a tantalizing 9-play, 81-yard closing drive that included four completions to Sterling, Gravois, Williams and Shen Joseph, all for first downs, and a 17-yard scramble.
The quarterback reflected the final tally by going over the top on the two-point conversion after a roughing the kicker penalty on Alec Mahler, who converted three point after touchdown attempts on the night and had several punts bottle up Lutcher deep in their own territory.
Smith’s fumble caused and recovered by Whitney just inside the red zone halted the Wildcats’ previous possession and LeBlanc and Thomas’ sack stopped the one before.
Lutcher had regained the lead with 11:30 left to play when Bourgeois rolled left and connected with Butler for a 25-yard touchdown to cap a 5-play 64-yard drive. The signal caller completed four passes on the drive including stepping up in the pocket on a 25-yard strike to Rashon Williams to convert a third down the play before and a pair of completions to Jacoby Williams to open the march. But Bourgeois was stopped short on the conversion to leave the score 26-21.
St. James scored on both of their opening possessions of the second half to take the lead on Sterling’s third touchdown of the night, a 20-yard run from the Wildcat formation, to cap a 8-play, 54-yard drive after Kaleb Brown was the first to Mealey on a fourth down stop the previous possession. Mahler’s kick made it 21-20 with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
Sterling busted free for a tough 28-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the half set up by Smith’s 15-yard scramble to cap an 8-play 75-yard drive.
Lutcher led 20-7 at halftime following Mealey’s 1-yard touchdown run with 14.6 seconds remaining in the first half. Mealey, the son of former LSU and NFL player Rondell Mealey, carried six times on the 8-play, 80-yard drive that answered St. James’ first score of the night including runs of 24 and 30 yards where he dragged defenders but Noah Detillier’s point after touchdown attempt hit the left upright.
St. James had cut it to 14-7 on Sterling’s first touchdown, a 1-yard run from the Wildcat, to finish off a 14-play, 72-yard drive with 2:03 remaining in the first half.
The Wildcats were poised to take the lead on their first possession of the game after Smith connected with Gravois for a 47-yard completion to the Bulldog 14 but on the next play Poche recovered his fumble.
Lutcher did go ahead three possessions later when Bourgeois hit Rashon Williams deep over the middle at midfield and the receiver did the rest on the way to a 69-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
Jacoby Williams recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff by Sean LeBeouf at the Wildcat 21 and Mealey punched it in two plays later from 4 yards out following a 16-yard reception by Williams who out leaped a pair of defenders and dragged a couple more. Detillier’s kick pushed the lead to 14-0 five seconds into the second quarter.
The Wildcats travel to E.D. White (1-1) in Thibodaux Friday night in Week 3 action. St. James defeated the Cardinals 27-21 last season.
The Bulldogs travel to Marksville (1-1) in Avoyelles Parish. Lutcher defeated the Tigers 35-12 last season in the Dog Pound.