There are some who say the Destrehan Wildcats cruised through their schedule this season. After all, the team allowed 88 points in nine games.
But Destrehan had to fight and claw its way to a 28-14 victory over River Parishes rival East St. John on Friday night to seal a perfect 10-0 season — their fourth in school history — and claim sole possession of the District 7-5A championship. Destrehan, the No. 2 seed in Class 5A, will host a bi-district round playoff game next week.
East St. John (5-5, 4-3) will be on the road.
Destrehan got this one by overcoming an ineffective first half with a nearly flawless second half. Will Matthews and Kirk Merritt each scored a pair of touchdowns and combined for 226 yards rushing — but more than half of that came in the second half. The passing game finished with 136 yards — but 83 of those yards came on one touchdown pass from Kohen Granier to Merritt — also in the second half. Then the defense kicked in, with Kendell Anderson nabbing a pair of second-half interceptions. Matt Young recovered an East St. John fumble late in the game to help preserve the victory.
“They had great talent,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux of the Wildcats. “We knew that. We made some mistakes. We couldn’t get things going. We just told our kids, ‘Let’s go back to playing Destrehan football. Let’s run the football. Let’s go get it.’ ”
“The first half, we let them get in our heads,” said Anderson, who nabbed his third and fourth inceptions of the year. “We were coming out thinking that we had to win. But in the second half, we started to get it together and started coming together as a team. The coaches told us the game wasn’t over, we were still in it and we had to show them what our defense was all about.”
Stifled by East St. John’s defense early, Destrehan was stunned as the visiting Wildcats jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first half. While East St. John ran 21 plays in the first quarter, including a nine-play, 79-yard scoring drive, Destrehan touched the ball only eight times for 16 yards.
With 7:53 remaining in the first quarter, East St. John quarterback Xavier Lewis connected with Jarrod Jackson on a 28-yard touchdown. The PAT kick was blocked leaving the Wildcats with a 6-0 lead. But after Destrehan turned the ball over on downs with 53 seconds remaining in the quarter at the Destrehan 44-yard line, East St. John took only seven plays to score.
With 10:11 to play in the half, Nigel Anderson capped the drive with a 2-yard run. Lewis then threw to a wide-open Shedrick Colbert for the 2-point conversion, giving East St. John a 14-0 lead.
After turning the ball over on downs, then Marquis Darensbourg being intercepted, then losing a fumble at the East St. John 14, Destrehan finally started moving. The Wildcats started their first scoring drive at their own 43 with Merritt and Matthews alternating runs. Matthews got the last one, a 1-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds remaining in the half to cut East St. John’s lead to 14-7.
Destrehan got a break in the third quarter when East St. John punter Nigel Anderson kneeled on a bobbled punt at the East St. John 16. Matthews covered that in one run to tie the game at 14 with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter.
East St. John was driving on its next possession until Kendall Anderson intercepted a Lewis pass at the Destrehan 16. After Matthews ran for 1 yard, Granier connected with Merritt on an 83-yard pass to give Destrehan a 21-14 lead with 2:13 remaining in the quarter.
Destrehan added one more score with 7:34 remaining in the game when Merritt ran for a 26-yard touchdown.
Lewis finished with 166 yards passing and 87 yards rushing. Jackson made several impressive catches on his way to 127 yards receiving.
“Momentum changed,” East St. John coach Phil Banko said. “We had a fumble. We got down their twice in the red zone and didn’t score – and that’s a credit to Destrehan. Maybe we ran out of a little bit of gas. But they made a couple of plays and we didn’t.”