Just how big is the Lutcher-St. James rivalry?
Well, the Southern University band will be performing at halftime – and that’s just only part of the pomp and pageantry.
The rivalry game also is the District 9-3A opener now that Lutcher is back in Class 3A plus St. James will be honoring the 1979 state championship football team. Helping build the excitement is the fact students of the schools had the first two days of St. James-Lutcher week off because of fall break and only a half-day of school on game day.
“You can throw the record out the window. When Lutcher and St. James get together, there is so much passion. There is so much community tradition and spirit, the kids will put it on the line. It’s not a hard week from the motivational aspect,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said.
The Wildcats certainly need no more motivation now that they are ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. St. James leads the all-time series 22-18-1.
St. James (5-0) got there by beating the likes of East St. John, Destrehan and Assumption. All three teams were undefeated until they faced the Wildcats.
It’s been a different story for Lutcher.
The Bulldogs (2-3) have suffered close defeats to Amite 28-21 and to St. Charles Catholic 23-21, and are coming off a 39-15 loss last week against St. Amant.
“For them, this is big. It’s something that could give them motivation, especially for the second half of the season,” Valdez said of a win by Lutcher over the Wildcats.
Lutcher’s offense is led by a first year starter at quarterback, junior Mekhi Patterson.
“To me, he’s a very dangerous guy,” Valdez said of Patterson. “He has the ability to stretch plays with his legs and he throws the ball well. He’s still working on some things but he’s not a guy that will just sit in the pocket. He’s a guy that can make plays with his feet. He’s dangerous because we don’t have enough on him to know what he likes to do the most. Coach (Dwain) Jenkins has always done a great job with quarterbacks. This kid is very talented.”
D’Wayne Winfield, who starts at receiver, also has seen some time at quarterback.
“He’s the bigger guy. He can throw and run is probably the future of their program,” said Valdez.
The quarterbacks have several top targets to throw to, including senior Jacoby Williams, who also sees time in the backfield.
“Jacoby is probably the best athlete they have. They put him at running back. They put him at receiver. They put him all over. He has been playing for a few years and probably has the most experience on that side of the ball. They find different ways to get him the ball at receiver or running back,” Valdez explained.
Along with Jacoby Williams and Winfield, another target is receiver Rashon Williams.
“Rashon Williams is a very skilled guy. He wins a lot of one-on-ones, especially if you try to take other people away,” said Valdez.
Ra’suan Storks, a junior, has emerged as a top runner for the Bulldogs.
“What happens with their offense is they spread the ball around so much so you are not going to see the great big numbers from one certain guy because they do so many different things. He gives them balance with the run-pass game. You have to be prepared for a lot of screens, a lot of quick passes and get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly and they will take their shots,” Valdez said.
A young group of sophomores were thrown into the fray three years ago and took their lumps but are now seasoned veterans.
Included in the group are Rashaud Long, Ivan Clark, Rhett Whitney and Tre Stewart. Also manning the secondary is junior Robert Ursin.
“Some of the things that they do because of their athleticism is a little bit different from some of the things we have seen. We just have to be prepared for it,” said Valdez.
One of the main guys up front is Carter Poche. Although only a sophomore, he has been a starter since his freshman year.
“He has been playing a lot time. He’s a technician. He goes a good job of playing the edge. He’s strong and a very smart guy,” Valdez said.
Poche has a lot of help up front.
“They have two big bodies inside, Ty Cooper and Jamel Thomas. Copeland Williams is the opposite defensive end,” said Valdez.
The defensive front, Valdez said, sets up the linebackers to make plays.
“Their linebackers are led by Chris Burkhalter, who is real good-looking fellow. He’s sideline to sideline. Zac Duhe is very good as the other linebacker,” the St. James coach said.
Two factors will play a key role in Friday’s outcome, according to Valdez.
“Playmakers are going to make plays but you have to be able to control the line of scrimmage and you have to be able to control your emotions in big rivalry games.”