Sterlington (8-3) at St. James (5-6), Friday, 7 p.m.
St. James' 47-23 victory at Lake Arthur last week not only enabled the 22nd-seeded Wildcats to advance in the Class 2A playoffs, it bought at least one more week for the program's storied stadium.
Nestled between the Mississippi River levee and the old railroad tracks, Wildcat Stadium will soon give way to a new 3,800-seat venue, complete with artificial turf and a double-deck press box, conveniently located next to the new St. James High School.
Coming off of its first home playoff victory since 2006, the visiting Sterlington Panthers (8-3, No. 6 seed) set out to play the bad guy and close down the old stadium Friday night. Starting time for the second round playoff game is 7 p.m. in Vacherie.
Sterlington defensive backs coach Mark Sims is familiar with Wildcat Stadium from his days as an assistant at Hahnville. With both teams boasting sizable fan bases, Thompson is looking for a big crowd.
“In coach Sims' words, 'it was an electric atmosphere,'” Thompson said. “Our fans have traveled well all year and I think we'll travel well Friday.”
It will be a long ride for the Panthers and their fans.
Playing in a spread out district, the Panthers have made several lengthy treks. Sterlington's longest regular season trip to Winnfield, approximately 2 ½ hours, was roughly half of this week's journey.
“We've been to Ferriday, Winnfield and Lake Providence,” Sterlington coach Jason Thompson said. “In that sense, we've had some trips, just not to this extent.”
Thompson says the long trip isn't necessarily a disadvantage.
“I've always said that come playoff time, getting on the road is not such a bad thing,” Thompson said. “At home, you have a lot of time to sit around and think. On the road, you're traveling, stopping to eat and keeping your mind a little more occupied.”
Like Sterlington, St. James appears to be on the upswing.
“St. James was a perennial playoff power up until about two or three years ago,” Thompson said. “Coach (Dwain) Jenkins has them on the road back.”
Sterlington is facing its second straight District 8-2A foe after mauling Sophie B. Wright 42-6 last week at the Panthers' Den. This one figures to be considerably more challenging, though.
St. James (5-6, No. 22 seed) has won four of its last five after a 1-5 start.
Opening the season with four consecutive losses, the Wildcats fell to West St. John (35-7), E.D. White (28-14), Vandebilt Catholic (22-18) and Riverside (48-14), before blanking Fisher (54-0) and bowing to Isidore Newman (44-14). St. James then shutout South Plaquemines (35-0) and Sophie B. Wright (43-0), lost to G.W. Carver (20-12) and routed W.L. Cohen in the regular season finale.
Last week, the Wildcats defeated No. 11 seed Lake Arthur 47-23 on the road.
“Their quarterback and wide receiver are probably as good as we've seen all year,” Thompson said. “They have speed all over the field on both sides of the ball. Defensively, they're good everywhere on the field. They're just real solid.”
Freshman quarterback Lowell Narcisse has completed 94-of-188 passes for 1,563 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. His best passing outing came two weeks ago against Cohen when he threw for 215 yards and six scores.
Narcisse is also the Wildcats' leading rusher with 461 yards and nine touchdowns on 112 carries. Topping the 100-yard mark for the first time, he ran for 108 yards and three TDs vs. Lake Arthur.
D'Kwan Sandolph is Narcisse's most frequent target with 49 receptions for 935 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Last week's six-catch, 103-yard, 2-TD effort vs. Lake Arthur was Sandolph's second straight 100-yard receiving game and fifth of the season.
Leading the defensive charge for St. James are Aquindas Steib (72 tackles, 4 tackles for loss), Angelios Washington (55 tackles) and Kollon Steib (44 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks).
Sterlington averages 369.7 yards per game, including 307.5 rushing.
Tailback Jaylon Wade leads a punishing rushing game, which averages 7.7 yards per carry.
Averaging 9 yards per attempt, Wade has carried 154 times for 1,390 yards and 13 touchdowns, including a nine-carry, 164-yard outing last week.
Fullback Austin Haman (114-973-16, 8.5 ypc) and quarterback Devon Murphy (81-412-11, 5.1) round out the triple threat backfield.
QuenTerrius Gray (13 receptions, 183 yards, 1 TD) and Wade (10-195-2) are the Panthers' top receiving threats.
Linebackers Cody McGuire (117 tackles, 10 TFL, 3 sacks) and Calvin Clay (75 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks), along with end DeMarcus Matthews (72 tackles, 5 TFL, 6 sacks) and cornerback Jaylan King (46 tackles, 5 interceptions) pace the Panthers defensively. King has also returned 10 punts for a 36.7-yard average, including a 69-yard touchdown last week.
Friday's winner advances to play the No. 3 Kinder-No. 19 Homer victor in the quarterfinals.