St. James battles past Union Parish to reach Class 3A championship game

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VACHERIE – St. James continued their perfect run to the Superdome, improving to 13-0 with a 25-14 home victory over Union Parish in the Class 3A semifinals Friday night.

The top-seeded Wildcats have completely dominated opponents all season but faced adversity versus the 12th-seeded Farmers.

St. James held a 13-6 halftime lead but Union Parish took the opening drive of third quarter 80 yards in nine plays to take the lead. An eight yard run by Ja’Quarrius Donald and the ensuing two-point conversion gave Union Parish (9-5) their first and only lead of the night, 14-13.

Championship level teams answer challenges, and St. James did just that with a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown march that took seven and a half minutes to recapture a 19-14 advantage to end the third period.

“You gotta have that if you wanna compete for a championship,” said St. James head coach Robert Valdez. “It was a championship type of drive, and our kids had to be prepared physically and mentally for that type of drive.”

Union Parish on the following drive backed themselves up with a penalty and were forced to punt back to the Wildcats who made the Farmers pay. Keyed by a 18-yard diving third down grab by Shazz Preston at the Union Pairhs four-yard line, St. James posted a two-score lead two plays later on a one-yard keeper by Shamar Smith to provide the final margin.

“We had a bone-headed penalty that hurt us, but they did a good job all night of keeping us off balance.” Union Parish head coach Joe Spatafora said. “We came up short. We wish St. James goes on and wins a championship next week.”

The Wildcats scored on their second series to take a 7-0 lead and then took another possession that ended inside the Union Parish 10 but a high snap on Alec Mahler’s 20-yard field-goal try forced holder Logan Gravois to scramble before being tackled at the 6.

The Wildcats struggled to pull away due to more self-inflicted damage.

Early in the second quarter, Smith had a 53-yard punt return called back by an illegal block. Late in the half, Smith was intercepted at the Farmers 20-yard line.

Two plays later though, Chase Geason forced Farmers quarterback Trent Ginn to fumble, and Kaleb Brown recovered at the Union Parish 33. That led to a Smith 22-yard touchdown pass to Preston with just 52 seconds left in the half. A failed snap on the extra-point try left the score at 13-6.

Preston had a dominant night with 12 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown.

“Feels so sweet. We can’t wait to practice. Week 15 can’t get no better than that,” Valdez said. “We knew coming in it was gonna be a dogfight. That’s a football team that’s good at what they do. They’re a smash mouth team, ground-and-pound, and we had to beat them at their game. We wanted to play fast but we had to bring it in tight.”

St. James will look to cap a 15-0 season Friday night in the Superdome against No. 23 seed Jennings in the 3A title game.

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