When St. James quarterback Shamar Smith fumbled the football on the Lutcher 20-yard line with 5:25 remaining in Friday night’s game, all seemed lost for the visiting Wildcats, who trailed their rivals by five points.
But it didn’t take long for the Wildcats junior to find his redemption in a thrilling 29-26 victory.
After the St. James defense stopped Lutcher at its own 45 with 2:25 remaining, Smith stepped up and superbly directed his offense on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive. With 8 seconds remaining, he calmly rolled to his left and threw a 5-yard pass to Tyshone Williams in the back corner of the end zone, setting off a massive celebration on the visiting side of Lutcher’s stadium.
A flurry of flags for roughing kicker Alec Mahler, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct call after the play, led the Wildcats to go for two. Smith took that in himself to give St. James a win over its cross-river rival.
It was the 40th meeting of the two St. James Parish teams, who took a decade off from playing each other before resuming the rivalry in 2015. St. James has won the last two and now leads the series 22-18.
But every St. James Parish football fan knows anything can happen in this game, which is why a standing-room-only crowd packed into the Dog Yard to see it.
They got what they came for.
Lutcher jumped to a 14-0 lead and led until the final 1:30 of the third quarter.
Bulldogs quarterback Kolby Bourgeois connected with Rashon Williams on a 69-yard pass with 19 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Then running back Rondell Mealey Jr. scored on a 4-yard run on the second play of the second quarter.
The son of the former LSU great provided the bulk of the Bulldogs ground offense, rushing for 142 yards on 20 carries. Bourgeois passed for 188 yards on 13 completions. He later connected with Adrian Butler on a 25-yard pass that gave Lutcher a 26-21 lead with 11:30 remaining in the game.
St. James was a little more versatile. Smith ran for 124 yards and one score on 22 carries and passed for 115 yards and another touchdown. Dontaz Sterling ran for 99 yards and three touchdowns, including one that gave St. James a brief 21-20 lead with 1:28 remaining in the third quarter.
Smith had just run for 7 yards and a first down when he fumbled the ball on the Bulldogs’ 20.
But after getting the ball back, Smith proved unflappable under pressure. He ran for 17 yards, then threw a 13-yard slant to Sterling. A block in the back call against the Bulldogs gave St. James the ball at its own 44.
Smith threw for 21 yards to Williams, then ran to the 6 with 13 seconds remaining.
On second-and-goal at the Bulldogs 5, Smith rolled left and found Williams.