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Friday, November 30, 2007

Walking to New Orleans....

Were it not for the warm glow of the stadium lights and the flashing police cruisers, St. James, La., would almost certainly be lost in the darkness and wilderness of south Louisiana tonight.

I'm here at Wildcats Stadium, which is nestled up against the Mississippi River and bordered by sugar cane fields and railroad tracks - about 30 minutes west of New Orleans. In about an hour, Calvary and St. James will tee it up for the right to advance to the Class 2A championship game at the Superdome next week.

Unless you've been here before, you've probably never been to a place like this.

Shortly after school let out at 2:30 p.m., the first of thousands of tailgaters gathered under an old oak tree in the large grass field fronting the campus. Cars lined the horseshoe-like driveway hours before dusk, taking up most of the available parking spaces.

Along state Highway 18 - the street that runs in front of the school and along a levee - the smell of jambalaya, beer and smoke tempted the taste buds. The sounds of Louisiana hip hop artists such as Lil Boosie, Juvenile and Hurricane Chris filled the air (Sorry, Scott. There was no Cupid Shuffle).

About three hours before the kickoff, I caught up with Calvary head coach Doug Pederson, who seemed to be his normally jovial self. He and the Cavs were well-rested: they spent the previous night at a Baton Rouge hotel, practiced for an hour at LSU's indoor complex, had lunch at an Italian-style buffet and spent the rest of the afternoon in St. James' gymnasium.

"I'm just worried about their speed," Pederson confessed, referring to the Wildcats. "They're gonna get theirs, you know?"

Maybe. But Calvary might get theirs, too. They seemed to revel in the unfamiliar and unique atmosphere. If they can conquer the novelty of this experience , the Cavs might be heading a little further down Interstate 10 next week.


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