VACHERIE — St. James' 32-13 victory in the Class 3A quarterfinals Friday night put the Wildcats one step closer to the glory of a state championship.
For Brusly, it was the end of a glorious run.
The Wildcats are headed to the semifinals for the first time since 2015 after ending Brusly’s Cinderella run through the playoffs amid the sugar cane fields of Vacherie.
The No. 24 Panthers previously upset the Nos. 9 and 8 teams in the bracket to get to No. 1 St. James — and Friday night, they were giving the Wildcats their toughest game since September.
Late in the fourth quarter, Brusly was within 10 points.
But no team had stopped St. James all season, and that held true again Friday night. The Wildcats scored nine unanswered points to notch their 13th win in 13 games.
“We worked extremely hard all year and it paid off,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said. “We’re not the biggest. We just have some kids that play hard, and they’ve been believing in what we’ve been preaching and believing in the process. To be able to practice in Week 14 is special. But we still have one goal left, and whoever is next is in our way.”
St. James will host No. 12-seeded Union Parish in the semifinals next week.
After watching his team dominate so many games — St. James had beaten its past eight opponents by an average of 37.8 points — Valdez was excited his players had to fight for a win.
The Wildcats took a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, and that was only after Alec Mahler kicked a 34-yard field goal as time ran out on the second quarter. For the first time in months, St. James couldn’t move the ball at will.
The responsibility to correct that fell on senior running back Sean Lebeouf.
Lebeouf pushed his way for 202 yards and three touchdowns, including a 61-yard burst at the start of the second half.
He got help from his quarterback, Shamar Smith, who had 117 yards passing and added one rushing touchdown. But Lebeouf did the heavy lifting.
“We came out on top,” Lebeouf said. "I knew we were gonna fight to the end. We were gonna fight. I knew we were gonna win the game. I don’t want to be too cocky, but I’m counting on my team any day."
Brusly attempted a late comeback when running back Josh Westly punched in his second score of the day on a 3-yard run up the middle with 6:21 left to play, closing the deficit to 23-13.
Westly was shaken up earlier in the game with a knee injury but he continued to tough it out until the end. He finished with 120 yards on 22 carries.
But late interception by St. James’ Brad Batiste sealed it.
“We’ve been the underdog for a long time in this deal, all the way back through the season,” coach Hoff Schooler said. “We talked (about how) we can’t be the No. 24 seed, because there’s not but eight teams left. Have to be one of the top eight.”