It was supposed to be Destrehan’s year.
All the pieces seemed to be in place — the veteran quarterback, the highly touted receiver, a solid running back and the coach who had led this team to former glory and now back to the semifinals after a four-year playoff absence.
But on a frosty field near Lafayette, the Acadiana Rams wrecked that dream, knocking the Wildcats quarterback from the game for a while, then knocking the team out of the playoffs with a 35-7 victory.
It has made for a tough 53 weeks for the Wildcats.
“To be that close,” said Destrehan senior running back Will Matthews. “It’s been on our minds.”
Now Destrehan will get a chance to avenge that difficult loss as the No. 4 seed Wildcats take on the No. 15 seed Rams n Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Class 5A final of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic. Destrehan (14-0) will be vying for its fifth football state title, its first since winning back-to-back titles in 2007 and 2008 — both under coach Stephen Robicheaux. He left after the 2009 season for two years, during which the Wildcats failed to make the playoffs, then returned in 2012.
Acadiana (10-4) is the defending state champion and will be trying to win its fourth title overall in seven tries. The Rams were runners-up to Destrehan in 2007.
“We’re playing Acadiana,” Robicheaux said. “But we’re playing and that’s the most important thing. These kids are special, they’ve always been special. All I’ve ever said is, ‘Let’s get this program back.’ And they’ve done a great job of doing that. This program means more to me than anything. And these kids have got the program back to where it needs to be.”
“I’ve been wanting to go to state since I was a little kid,” Matthews said. “Me and these guys, we’ve been talking about it forever. I’m just glad we’re able to accomplish our goal — but we’re not done yet.”
Coming into this season, Robicheaux didn’t know what to expect. He knew he still had key players – Matthews and wide receivers Kirk Merritt and Alfred Smith in particular. But star quarterback Donovan Isom had moved on to Utah.
“We knew we had players,” Robicheaux said. “But you never know what’s going to happen. I mean, look at the Saints. Everybody thought they were going to win it all You have to have some chemistry. You’ve got to have a little luck. We knew we had enough players that we thought we might be able to make a run for it. But our biggest question mark was our quarterback situation.”
The Wildcats entered the season with three potential quarterbacks, eventually whittling down to two. But even now, in week 15, either one can take the lead. Starter Marquise Darensbourg is 92 of 148 for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kohen Granier is 32 of 48 for 595 yards and seven touchdowns. Both are sophomores.
While some question the rotating system, Robicheaux said, it works.
“We’ve only won 14 games with them and we have one left to go,” he said, with some sarcasm. “It’s just a matter of what we like, what we want to do and what’s working well for us at the time.”
But those passing numbers are a long way off from Isom’s, who threw for more than 2,600 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. That’s because this year’s version of the Wildcat is largely a running team, amassing nearly 4,000 yards on the ground. Leading the way has been Matthews, who has rushed for 1,814 yards and 24 touchdowns on 215 carries.
Now to win the golden trophy, Destrehan will have to stop a solid option/veer running attack — much like the one they used last year. This one is led by Tulane commitment Malik Eugene, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, Eric Duhon, who has rushed for more than 700 yards and Donavin Solomon who has rushed for more than 700 yards.
Like Destrehan, the Rams’ quarterback situation has been in flux. Kevin Moore, the Rams’ third starter this season, took over the starting position in Week 10.
Robicheaux said his team is ready to do battle.
“The biggest thing we have going for us in this rematch is, we saw them last year,” Robicheaux said. “You can’t simulate what they do in practice. The kids have seen it, they know the speed of the game, they know what to expect.”