This week’s VSN position-by-position breakdown will focus on the New Orleans Game of the Week between Catholic League foes St. Augustine and Holy Cross. The matchup will kick off Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Tad Gormley Stadium, and both teams will be in pursuit of their second league win of the season in arguably Louisiana’s toughest district of 9-5A.
The Purple Knights (5-4, 1-4) took care of Shaw, 20-0, last week while the Tigers (4-5, 1-4) are coming off a tough, 29-28, loss that saw them surrender a 28-7 lead over Brother Martin. The two teams will assuredly fall outside the top four teams in Division I sitting at Nos. 8 and 7, respectively, in the latest LHSAA power rankings, which means both will be in action during the first week of the playoffs.
But without further ado, here’s a look at how each team stacks up with the other at each position. St. Augustine is officially the home team, so we’ll start with the Purple Knights in each section.
St. Augustine — Junior Kendell Sampson Jr. is close to wrapping up his first full year as a starter, and he also saw some action last year as a sophomore. The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder enters Week 10 as the Catholic League’s third leading passer in yards and touchdowns with 1,274 yards and 14, respectively, but he’s also a legitimate threat with his legs. He’s a shifty player with very good speed and normally escapes for a time or two per game for chunks of yardage downfield. The Purple Knights’ passing game is mostly predicated on short, quick throws, but Sampson Jr. also has the arm strength to get the ball downfield when they take their shots.
Holy Cross — Junior John Dade Wooton is the leader of the Catholic League’s top passing attack with 1,983 yards completing 131 of his 214 attempts (61.2%). The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder also leads the league in passing touchdowns with 19 to just five interceptions. Wooton was able to get a few starts under his belt as a sophomore and the experience seems to paying big dividends this year for the Catholic League’s top pocket passer.
St. Augustine — The Purple Knights use a trio of backs to get the job done in senior Mahmood Bailey, junior Albert Quest V and sophomore Justin Doyle. All three have taken the lead in the backfield at different points in the season, but the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Bailey leads the group in rushing with with 376 yards and five touchdowns while Doyle follows with 282 yards and five touchdowns.
Doyle has seen an uptick in his carries over the last two weeks, though, with 30 totes for 127 yards, and the 5-foot-11, 205-pound bruiser is a load to bring down that could be a next-level prospect. Quest V is sort of a mix between Bailey and Doyle, and he still runs with authority despite his 5-foot-6, 155-pound frame. St. Aug also isn’t shy about his all three out of the backfield as receivers.
Holy Cross — Like St. Aug, Holy Cross is a running back-by-committee team led by a trio of guys in senior Celven Hulbert and juniors Jaden Handy and Amiri Franklin. Hulbert is the leading rusher of the three with 292 yards and three touchdowns on 66 carries, but Handy isn’t far behind with 275 yards and six touchdowns on 55 carries. Handy rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, but spends most of his time in the slot as a receiver this year. With the Tigers’ propensity to air it out, it’s been difficult to find carries for Franklin over the past couple of weeks, but he’s fully capable of making big plays on the ground.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
St. Augustine — Like most teams, St. Aug doesn’t have a tight end, but it’d be tough for one to get any targets with the plethora of options the Purple Knights use at receiver. A total of five receivers have at least 120 yards receiving, and another has 85 on seven catches in sophomore Javen Nicholas. The senior trio of Jaheim Walters, Khi Mathieu and Josh White lead the team in receiving while junior Tylie Keasley and sophomore Joseph Miller also make their presence felt at times.
Holy Cross — Holy Cross is another one of those teams with no tight end, and they rely on a foursome of receivers including senior Tyler Kirkwood, juniors Handy and Jalen Johnson and senior Alondre Wells. Kirkwood still leads the Catholic League in receiving despite a couple of slow weeks as of late, but Johnson has more than picked up the slack with 15 catches for just over 300 yards with five touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 165-pounder also had a punt return for a touchdown last week, and the Purple Knights would be wise to keep early tabs on the talented playmaker.
St. Augustine — St. Aug’s offensive front has been solid for much of the season allowing just nine sacks while leading the running game to a 5.4 average per carry. No one in the group has established themselves as a Division I prospect just yet, but coaches are very high on senior center Semaj Payton, senior guard Vincent Joseph and senior tackles Corey Crump. They’re an experienced group overall, and their athleticism allows them to hold their own with essentially any team in the Catholic League.
Holy Cross — As detailed before, Tulane commitment Josh Remetich anchors a strong offensive line at left tackle. They’ve allowed Wooton to be sacked only four times this season and the Tigers’ top three rushers are all averaging at least 4.3 yards per carry. They’ve already seen two of the Catholic League’s top defensive lines in John Curtis and Rummel, and St. Aug’s defensive front will provide another tough test.
St. Augustine — This is a really talented group with two of the Catholic League’s top defensive ends in junior Byron Turner Jr. and senior Kendal Rowan. Turner Jr. reported offers over the spring from Florida, Mississippi State and Tennessee among others and he’s been disruptive all season long recording six sacks with five tackles for loss. Rowan has also been a force causing three fumbles, and defensive tackles senior Future Lee and sophomore Bishop Thomas are top tier interior lineman in the Catholic League.
Holy Cross — Barryn, 95 and 90. The Tigers generally use three or sometimes four down lineman in juniors Barryn Sorrell and Nicholas Eaton along with seniors Josh Guillory and Jace Stewart. Sorrell leads the group in tackles with 31 which is good for fourth on the team, and he also has three tackles for loss with two sacks and a forced fumble. Guillory checks in with 22 takedowns, Stewart has 14 and Eaton has nine for a solid group that can get the job done.
St. Augustine — This is an athletic, physical group featuring Kansas commit Taiwan Berryhill along with seniors Jabaz Myles and Kevin Cooley Jr. All three are capable of covering sideline-to-sideline and they arrive with bad intentions when they meet ball carriers. All three have at least 30 tackles for the Purple Knights and made key plays in last week’s win over Shaw. Myles blocked a punt that led to St. Aug’s second of three touchdowns, Cooley Jr. forced a fumble on a fake punt attempt, which was scooped up by Berryhill, who also had a 38-yard catch-and-run on a fake punt by the Purple Knights.
Holy Cross — Two of the Tiger defense’s most productive players lie in their linebacking core. Louisiana Tech commitment Tyler Grubbs leads the team in tackles with 50 and junior Aiden Patcheco is the team leader in sacks with six. The duo has also combined for five tackles for loss with two interceptions each, and junior Luke St. Amant also makes his fair share of plays checking in at No. 5 on the team in tackles with 30 despite missing two games.
St. Augustine — The Purple Knights’ secondary is littered with playmakers. Senior Tahj Adams has been the group’s most productive player with over 30 tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 fumble recoveries and 2 touchdowns on the season, one of which came in last week’s win over Shaw on a blocked punt. Junior Edward Gilds III also has three interceptions with over 20 tackles, junior Lucius Tillery had his first pick last week, and senior Damon McFarland previously reported offers from Northwestern State, Houston and New Mexico State among others.
Holy Cross — This is the deepest group of Holy Cross’ defense with five players that make significant contributions. Senior safety Colby Brown and junior safety Kolbe Cage are second and third on the team in tackles with 49 and 39, and Cage is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with junior Jackson Wallace, who both have three. Senior Connor Wensel is also sixth in the team in tackles with 27 even after missing two games, and the Tigers are young at cornerback with sophomores Ernest Marbley and Xavier Glaude taking the majority of the reps.
St. Augustine — As is the case more often than not for St. Aug, they’ve had their fair share of struggles in the kicking game. Jaron Marks III had a solid start to the season as the kicker, but Kenneth Bickham has taken over as of late. He made 2-of-3 extra points last week against Shaw, but Marks III still handles most of the punting duties while offensive lineman Vincent Joseph kicks off.
In the return game, the Purple Knights have a couple of big-play weapons including senior receivers Jaheim Walters and Josh White. Walters had a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown against Rummel and while White’s long is just 30 yards, he’s still a threat to take it the distance. Albert Quest V also has a long of 60 yards as a kick returner this season.
Holy Cross — Sophomore Eli LaFrance has been extremely reliable on extra points this season knocking through 34 of his 35 attempts (97.1%). It’s been a bit tougher in the field goal department making 2-of-5 with a long of 30, and LaFrance also kicks off for the Tigers. Wooton and Grubbs split time as the punter depending on the situation.
Johnson and Franklin are Holy Cross’ most dangerous return men. Johnson has a long of 69 as a kick returner and a long of 55 as a punt returner, which went for a touchdown last week against Brother Martin. Franklin has a long of 69 on kickoff returns which came against John Curtis and he’s averaging 26.17 yards on his six returns.