The goal for West St. John’s defense was eight turnovers.
The Rams forced four, all interceptions, with the first two resulting in touchdowns that helped produce a 20-14 victory against Kentwood in the Class 1A state championship game of the Allstate Sugar Bowl LHSAA Prep Classic played Thursday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Junior linebacker Niko Roy recorded West St. John’s first interception came on the second play from scrimmage and returned the interception to the 4-yard line to set up Kylan Duhe’s 3-yard scoring run.
Senior defensive end Covan Barnes followed four possessions later with an interception of a screen pass that he returned 46 yards for a go-ahead touchdown and a 13-7 lead that the top-seeded Rams would not relinquish.
“I reminded (the defense) throughout the game, in the locker room, on the way (to the Superdome)’’ about their importance, West St. John coach Brandon Walters said. “No disrespect to our offense, but if you can’t stop people, then don’t expect to win. That’s what we want to hang our hat on. You’ve got to be able to stop people.’’
The Rams did bend, surrendering 254 yards and 11 first downs, but they refused for the most part to break in forcing two fumbles to go with the four interceptions that helped produce West St. John’s sixth state championship and first under Walters.
Those final two interceptions by free safety Trenton Grow and cornerback D’Kyri Jackson thwarted fourth-quarter scoring threats that reached West St. John’s 20- and 31-yard lines.
Jackson’s leaping grab in front of two Kentwood receivers at West St. John’s 1-yard line with 13 seconds remaining sealed West St. John’s 11th victory in 13 games.
“We practice that way (getting turnovers),’’ Walters said. “We play that way. We set goals for those. This week it was pretty lofty. We wanted to get eight. Our guys stepped up. But Kentwood definitely tested us. They definitely tested us.’’
Third-seeded Kentwood (11-4) racked up 139 of its 254 yards on six plays that included runs of 42, 19 and 16 yards and completions covering 32, 16 and 14 yards. The Kangaroos’ other 54 snaps produced just 115 yards.
In addition to the four interceptions, Kentwood quarterback Larenz Morris was harassed into 8 of 26 passing. The Kangaroos’ two scoring passes each came on fourth-and-9s.
Barnes’ interception for the go-ahead touchdown proved to be a pivotal moment after Roy’s interception set an early tenor.
“I’ve been telling my big brother all week that I was going to get an interception and run it back,’’ Barnes said in referring to his older brother Corday, who was a member of West St. John’s 2004 state championship team.
“We work on screens a lot in practice. I saw (the running back). He was hiding in the line. I saw the quarterback’s eyes. He was looking at the running back. I said, ‘That’s mine.’ ’’
Roy’s interception “was huge,’’ Walters said. “We wanted to come out on that first drive and do something big. We wanted to set the tone and hit them in the mouth a little bit.’’
Barnes recorded a team-leading six tackles, Jackson five, defensive end Jonathan Porter 4½ and cornerback Alyjah Borne four. Porter also had twp tackles for losses and two sacks.
“My background is on defense,’’ Walters said. “I love the trenches. I love the physicality. These are the types of games that test your intestinal fortitude. These guys rose to (the occasion). These are the spoils.’’
Winning a state title, Barnes said, “was awesome. It’s been a dream of mine since I was young. It finally happened.’’