Kentwood, West St. John head north

Advocate photo by John OubreKentwood quarterback Tavarious Battiste runs away from Southern Lab defenders Dorien Welch and Tre'Vonce Thomas as he heads upfield. Show caption
Advocate photo by John OubreKentwood quarterback Tavarious Battiste runs away from Southern Lab defenders Dorien Welch and Tre'Vonce Thomas as he heads upfield.

Class 1A football prominence is nothing new for Kentwood High or West St. John High.

West St. John was the 1A runner-up last season and has a string of Prep Classic titles and appearances dating to the early 1990s. The same is true for Kentwood, which seeks its first title-game berth since winning a title in 2003.

Both south Louisiana powers face north Louisiana road blocks in this week’s semifinal round.

Fifth-seeded Kentwood (11-1) travels to Monroe to play top-seeded Ouachita Christian (13-0). West St. John (9-3), the sixth seed, travels to No. 2 Haynesville (10-2). Both games are set for 7 p.m. Friday.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been in the semifinals,” Kentwood coach David Currier said. “We came into this season thinking we had the chance to be pretty good. Ouachita Christian is the No. 1 seed for a reason. I think we’re excited about the challenge.”

Likewise, West St. John coach Robert Valdez said his team relishes the challenge. Especially since the Rams beat Haynesville at HHS 54-41 in a quarterfinal shootout a year ago.

The two teams are bound by more than just north Louisiana foes or that each won a district that features Baton Rouge teams.

Before Kentwood won the District 7-1A title and West St. John claimed the 9-1A crown, both teams used games against high classification opponents to build on.

Currier noted each time the Kangaroos have made a deep playoff run, they’ve claimed a win over Class 3A Tangipahoa Parish rival Amite High. This season, that win came in the jamboree. Key games with two other Tangi 3A teams followed. Kentwood beat Jewel Sumner, and its lone loss was to Loranger, the No. 4 playoff seed.

West St. John suffered early season losses to two 5A teams, McKinley and Bonnabel, and also lost to Valdez’s alma mater, Class 4A O. Perry Walker.

“We schedule tough every year,” Valdez said. “All those games were close, and as it tough as it was to lose them, this team understood those games were going to make them better. We (WSJ coaches) told them to focus on the district and each game after that.”

The approach has worked well for both teams. Kentwood has nine straight wins, while West St. John will take an eight-game winning streak into its semifinal.

Youth is served

Kentwood returned seven starters on both offense and defense. The roles played by two first-year starters are notable. Junior quarterback Tabarious Battiste has become a threat as a passer and a runner.

A shoulder injury has sidelined feature running back Leslie Collins. Enter freshman Shyhem Carter, originally a wingback, who has taken on a key role.

Balanced Rams

West St. John is known for its rushing attack, led by Kylum Favorite and Jeremy Jackson. But the passing of Austin Howard helped key last week’s 41-20 quarterfinal win over Vermilion Catholic last week.

Howard passed for 240 yards and also ran for a TD.

“Some people see us a spread team that runs the ball,” Valdez said. “Our goal is always to be balanced, and Austin is our catalyst.”

It’s on the line

Each team has a go-to player on its defensive line. West St. John’s Eric Bell is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound tackle who has committed to Tulane. Linebacker Dontre Turner and defensive back Justin Bethancourt are other leaders for the Rams.

Kentwood has its anchor on the line in Jay Nichols, who starts on the offensive and defensive lines. The Kangaroos also have a 265-pound end in Torandon Watson.

For the record

Kentwood’s Currier enters the semifinal game with a career record of 244-82. That total ranks 21st on Louisiana’s all-time wins list.

Currier is now just 10 wins behind his brother, former Amite coach Donald Currier, who closed out his career mark of 254-111-1. Donald Currier also coached at Woodland and Franklinton.