The Narbonne Gauchos have fielded stronger, deeper, more experienced teams in recent seasons.
Still, in 2017 they ventured out of state, all the way to the middle of the Pacific, to take on Hawaii powerhouse Saint Louis. The trek was worthwhile. The promise and potential they showed in four games, including losses to Long Beach Poly and Centennial, were fully on display at Aloha Stadium on Saturday night in an instant-classic, made-for-TV-but-wasn’t-on-TV 56-50 loss to Saint Louis.
Quarterback Jalen Chatman passed for 517 yards and five TDs. He also ran for another on a smooth rollout-quarterback draw type play. Running back Jermar Jefferson showed that he has prototype game, a hybrid running back/receiver who is a good fit in any system. Saint Louis limited him to 46 rushing yards on 17 carries — most of them came on an early 42-yard rip — but he was at his best running routes. Jefferson hauled in eight passes for 179 yards, including two touchdowns that were breathtaking, scintillating and crowd-silencing. It was the old Marshall Faulk effect on the UH Rainbow Warriors, sucking all the air out of the atmosphere at Aloha Stadium just when Saint Louis seemed to have jolted the place with offensive electricity.
The humidity at sea level in the islands seemed to have an effect on both defenses in the second half. Three touchdowns combined were scored in less than a minute when the fourth quarter began.
“The humidity wasn’t a factor. Our kids weren’t cramping,” longtime Gauchos coach Manuel Douglas said. “What’s happening, though, is we were scoring quickly and our defense was back on the field. But we don’t have any two-way players. We have been struggling offensively running the ball and a little bit of that showed up in crunch time.”
Douglas’ team had a 30-21 lead at halftime and opened the lead to 37-21 early in the third quarter, but a stonewalling Saint Louis run defense proved to be a difference-maker. Even as Jefferson wowed everyone watching with his blur-speed explosiveness.
“We had some success getting him the ball with some stuff we hadn’t run all year. When the back would sit and the linebacker would come, then we’d throw it. Melvin Davis, he’s a running back at Hawaii, when he was a big-time running back for us, we ran that for him in the Coliseum, and he scored three touchdowns,” Douglas said.
The good news for the Gauchos is that they racked up massive yardage and points while on the road against a formidable opponent. They begin CIF Marine League action next week with five games of elite-level experience behind them. Douglas sees his QB’s confidence rising through the adversity and challenges.
“We move forward. Like Long Beach Poly, we were close and lost 14-10 at the end. We could easily be 4-1. Tonight, Jalen made throws I’m used to him making, making good reads, not making mistakes. We maintained at the line of scrimmage. We made mistakes, but not as many,” Douglas said. “Saint Louis a good team. We challenge ourselves with our schedule. We came 3,000 miles and came up short a little bit.”