Not many people expected West St. John to still be playing.
The Rams, afterall, are now just 5-7 on the season.
Among the lowlights of the season were a five-game losing streak that eventually turned into the team losing seven of its past eight games.
But that was the regular season.
West St. John, a No. 17 seed, has made the most of the postseason, beating No. 16 Ferriday in the opening round, then shocking top seed and defending state champion Many 34-30 this past Friday night.
“Nobody had us picked to do that but us,” West St. John coach Brandon Walters said. “We expected to win, and we expect to be playing deep into the playoffs every year.
“We try to instill that in our kids. It got ugly in the middle of the season, but we are a different team this time of the year. The kids understand, and it’s what is expected of us.”
Walters is in his first season as head coach after spending the past 10 seasons working primarily with the defensive line.
But he has picked up right were former coach Robert Valdez, now at Scotlandville, left off.
West St. John is one win away from its fourth consecutive trip to the semifinals. The Rams host No. 8 Mangham on Friday in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
“They are similar to Many in that they like to pound the ball, running it between the tackles,” Walters said.
Senior receiver Jabari Walters, the coach’s son, expects a big crowd Friday night as the team tries to move a step closer to reaching the title game for the first time since 2011.
“I think it will be a tough environment,” the younger Walters said. “I think a lot more people will come out now that we’ve beat the No. 1 team.”
If the past two weeks are any indication, those fans may want to stick around to the very end. In the win over Ferriday, West St. John had to stop a two-point conversion in overtime to seal the win. Last week, West St. John found themselves in a 21-0 hole in the second quarter before rallying to win.
“A lot of people didn’t think we could pull it off, but we kept fighting,” Jabari Walters said.
West St. John trimmed its 21-0 deficit to 28-20 by halftime and then outscored Many 14-2 in the second half to advance.
“Many came out swinging, but we started rallying back,” Walters said. “We pretty much shut them down in the second half. It just shows that we have some serious resolve. When they want to play and put their mind to it, they can play with anybody. We now know that we can deal with adversity.”
Walters credits a brutal district and predistrict slate for helping his team prepare for the postseason. Two of the teams in the district (Riverside and St. Charles) are playing in the Division III semifinals on Friday. St. James (3A) and Southern Lab (Division IV) are still playing as well.
“Those games prepared us for this,” Walter said. “Pretty much everybody we played is still playing, so we are definitely battle-tested. That’s done on purpose, to make sure we get competition and a chance to see all types of offenses.”
Linebacker Nichlas Borne, safety Jamal Walters and defensive end Covan Barnes lead the West St. John defense. Quarterback Jemoine Green, running back Lamore Boudoin and Walters lead the offense.
West St. John is seeking its fourth state title and first since winning back-to-back crowns in 2003 and 2004.
If the Rams beat Mangham on Friday, they’ll advance to the semifinals to play the Pickering-Rayville winner.
“It says a lot about the program and how far we have come throughout the season,” Walters said.