The people of tiny River Parishes community of Edgard did what they do Friday night.
They came to Rudy Divault Stadium to root on the West St. John Rams in their Class 1A regional playoff game against Varnado. They cheered every big play and every touchdown (and there were many). And they gathered on the field with the players and their families after the Rams’ 51-0 victory, which sends them to next week’s quarterfinals at home against Plain Dealing. And they prayed and they cried.
They came wearing stickers with the letters “JJ” over their hearts, and with buttons urging the Rams to “Do it 4 Juan,” and with a wide assortment of t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and even socks bearing the smiling face of Juan Joseph, the beloved West St. John alumnus and assistant coach who died last weekend in a shooting outside a Baton Rouge night club.
“This is what we do,” Rams coach Robert Valdez said. “We lean on each other when we need to.”
After a week spent sitting idle after earning a bye week, then spending a week in mourning, Friday night provided just what the West St. John football team needed — the normalcy of football, and a win.
After an understandably slow start following a moving pre-game tribute to the fallen coach, including the release of 27 balloons — one for every year of his life — the Rams finally found their rhythm. They went from a scoreless first quarter to a 22-0 halftime lead, then a 51-0 win with little clock stoppage in the second half.
Junior quarterback Jermoine Green completed 15 of 24 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns. He threw two to senior receiver Morell Bartholomew, who finished with seven catches for 64 yards. Jabari Walters caught the other scoring pass. Bradley Borne led the rushing game with 15 carries for 155 yards and two touchdowns, plus a two-point conversion. He also had the play of the night, breaking free for a 65-yard run in the third quarter to put the Rams ahead 37-0. Lamore Boudoin ran for 47 yards and two touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
The Rams defense, meanwhile, did its part, holding the No. 14 seed Wildcats (9-3) to minus-39 yards rushing and 8 yards passing.
“We needed to get back to playing football,” Valdez said. “Our purpose and our mission has always been clear — we play for championships. It’s just a little redefined now. It has a little bit more meaning. We’re going to keep going. It’s good to win, it’s good to keep going. We do it with a heavy heart.”
Green had thrived under the tutelage of Joseph, who served as quarterbacks coach. Friday night was not easy for him.
“I miss him a lot,” Green said. “Him telling me the mistakes I’m making and what I can do to get better. He would be happy right now. I did everything he taught me.”
Borne said the week was tough for everyone.
“We came into this game with a lot of emotion, playing for Coach Joseph,” he said. “It was hard having to come out and adjust to not having him there. We can’t bring him back. The only way we can live up to his legacy is to honor him and do what we have to do on the field.”
Today the community of Edgard will say its final farewells to Joseph, a 2005 WSJ graduate who helped lead the Rams to Class 2A state championships in 2003 and 2004 as their quarterback. He had gone on to a stellar college career at Milsaps College, where he was a three-time Offensive Player of the Year in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference and, in 2008, earned the Conerly Trophy, the top college football award in Mississippi. He later had brief stints with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League, and with the Lafayette Wildcatters of the Southern Indoor Football League.
His funeral will be held at St. John the Baptist Church in Edgard, where he served several years as an altar boy. His repast will be held at West St. John High School.
“We’re the epitome of Small Town America,” Valdez said. “It’s West St. John. This is West St. John football. And Juan Joseph epitomized that.”