Destrehan rallies past ESJ to finish 10-0 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- Destrehan running back Will Matthews tries to turn the corner against East St. John on Nov. 7.

Destrehan running back Will Matthews had never experienced anything like it.

Shortly after coach Stephen Robicheaux finished his postgame, congratulatory spiel following the Wildcats’ 24-12 victory over rival Hahnville in the Class 5A quarterfinals Friday, Matthews was swarmed by local media. He barely finished one interview before being grabbed for another. And he did it over and over again.

Such is life for a game MVP.

Matthews certainly was that Friday. After the Wildcats struggled to move the ball against Hahnville in the first half, the Destrehan coaching staff decided just to give the ball to Matthews. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound senior went from a paltry six carries for 41 yards in the first half to a hefty 22 carries for 131 yards in the second half, twice bulldozing over his opponents to score 2-yard touchdowns. And a football star was born.

“It was cool,” Matthews said. “You see stuff like that on TV, people getting bum-rushed by cameras and stuff. You never know how it feels until it happens. I was just blessed that it happened to me.”

But as Matthews repeated time and again, he was just doing his job — no matter how many times he was asked to do it. He enters Friday night’s semifinal game against No. 9 West Monroe with more than 1,700 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

Matthews sat out one game, against H.L. Bourgeois, with a sore knee. His performance against Hahnville last week also earned him a trio of metro area Player of the Week awards.

“I just kept pushing,” he said. “My mindset is just to keep pushing, don’t get tired no matter what’s going on. Once they gave me the ball, I knew what I had to do. And when I don’t get the ball, I know I have to block. I just have to give 110 percent on every play. It wasn’t the first time I had a load like that, but it was the first time it was that big. I just had to step up and do what I had to do.”

Matthews never stops, never asks to come out of the game and never gives up, Robicheaux said.

“He never does,” Robicheaux said. “He’s incredible, his work ethic — he just runs so hard.”

As the fourth-seeded Wildcats ride their 13-game winning streak into Friday night’s semifinals against West Monroe, they know the task will get harder. The Rebels are familiar opponents. In 1993, West Monroe defeated Destrehan 29-21 in the Class 5A final in the Superdome. In 2005, West Monroe defeated Destrehan 49-27 in the quarterfinals. In 2008 Destrehan defeated West Monroe 14-3 to win the Class 5A title.

“They’re as big as any team we’ve faced this season,” Robicheaux said. “Their front seven is huge, and we know we’re going to have to try to figure out a way to run at them. They play that typical north Louisiana smash-mouth football.”

The Wildcats also are haunted by last year’s 35-7 loss to Acadiana in the semifinals.

“To be that close,” Matthews said. “We’re in the same situation as last year, but this year I think what’s helping us a little bit is we have that experience. We can’t get down on each other when things get down. That was our downfall last year.”

But Robicheaux said, it takes three things to win in football: good coaching, good players and a little luck. This year’s Wildcats have had the huge advantage of a home field virtually every week. They traveled to Thibodaux in the regular season and to Reserve in the playoffs. That’s the farthest they’ve gone. Meanwhile, more than 5,000 fans filled Destrehan’s stadium last week.

“Our crowd was amazing,” Matthews said. “Our fans are great. They keep saying, ‘We’re going to see y’all in the Dome.’ I keep telling them we’ve got one more game to play.”