Longtime Destrehan Wildcats fans may be noticing something a little different about their football team this season.
Oh, they’re still in the traditional garnet uniforms and all, still lined up straight with the helmets on. But this year’s team is, let’s just say, a little more grounded.
Yes, Wildcats fans. Destrehan has become a running team.
“How about that?” said Destrehan coach Steve Robicheaux. “Who would’ve thought?”
And yet they’re still undefeated after seven games, atop the District 7-5A standings and sitting at No. 2 in the Class 5A poll and The Advocate’s Large Schools Super 10 as they prepare to host South Lafourche (4-3, 3-1) this week for homecoming.
Over the past several years, the Wildcats have lived and died by the passing game. Although the Wildcats had some players who were perfectly capable of running the ball, they didn’t often get the chance. Of course, with a quarterback like Donovan Isom, who passed for 2,021 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, why bother?
But Isom is now a freshman at the University of Utah. And sophomore Marquise Darensbourg was tapped to be the next quarterback for the Wildcats. Certainly a capable quarterback, Darensbourg doesn’t have the arm Isom has. In seven games, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound QB has passed for 505 yards and seven touchdowns.
But what he does have is an extraordinary supporting cast of receivers and running backs — including receivers Kirk Merritt, Alfred Smith and John Williams, and running back Will Matthews — who can do incredible things with a football once it’s put in their hands.
“When you look at the type of players we have, you don’t think you come in and say we’re going to run the ball,” Robicheaux said.
But that’s pretty much what happened.
Last year, Merritt was one of the Wildcats’ leading receivers with 521 yards and seven touchdowns. This year against Hahnville, Merritt was the game’s leading rusher with 187 yards on seven carries, including touchdowns of 56 and 92 yards. The Wildcats finished that game (a 24-6 victory) with 340 rushing yards and only 33 passing yards.
In last week’s victory 42-7 win over Central Lafourche, the Wildcats rushed for 308 yards. Matthews led the way with 193 yards that put him over the 1,000-yard mark with three games remaining. Last year he finished the regular season with 968.
Robicheaux said he didn’t set out to become a running team in 2014, but he’s pretty happy about it.
“It just kind of evolved,” Robicheaux said. “I’m ecstatic over the way we can run the ball.
“Obviously it’s because of the offensive line and the way the receivers are blocking. Last year we had that big question mark. We couldn’t run the ball at times. And this year we’re running the ball. I think it’s going to be better for us in the long run.
“It’s a combination of a number of things. No. 1, the defense is playing real well. And if we can control the ball and play good defense, we can win games that way and let the little sophomore quarterback come into himself. He’s doing a great job. We’re just letting him develop. And the main thing is, he doesn’t have to win games for us. ”
Matthews said he and his teammates knew this year would be an adjustment to the new quarterback.
“We knew coming in that we’d have a young quarterback,” he said. “All we had to do was encourage him and let him know that he had playmakers around him, and all he had to go was get the ball to the playmakers.”
Matthews also gave credit to the offensive line.
“They have more experience,” he said. “It’s easier for them to open up the holes. They’re just tremendous blockers. It just helps everything out.”