Destrehan and East St. John meet Friday night in a River Parishes rematch of two weeks ago.
This time the stakes are even higher. The winner will earn a berth in the Class 5A state quarterfinals. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Joe Keller Stadium in Reserve.
The two Wildcats squads, both from District 7-5A, faced off in the last game of the regular season. Destrehan defeated East St. John 28-14 to finish the regular season undefeated and win the district championship outright. In that game, East St. John had a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter but Destrehan scored 28 unanswered points.
Destrehan (11-0), seeded fourth in Class 5A, defeated Pineville 54-0 in the first round of the playoffs.
“I don’t like playing teams twice; I would rather play a complete stranger,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said. “But it’s the playoffs, so it’s the hand that you’re dealt. I doubt there will be any surprises. We’re going to do the same things we’ve been doing to be successful, and they’re going to do the same things they’ve been doing to be successful.”
“They are a tough matchup for us,” Robicheaux said. “They have great players. I think playing them the first time made our kids better. Our kids know they have great athletes, so they will be ready to play.”
Destrehan’s success this year has been its ability to run the ball out of the spread offense and stop the run.
“To be successful we’ve got to be able to run the football and stop the run,” Robicheaux said.
DHS has made the transformation from a pass-happy offense last year to a run-oriented one this year.
“The whole complexion of our offense has changed,” Robicheaux said. “Last year, we threw for 3,000 and rushed for a 1,000 and this year it is just the opposite. It has changed because of the personnel.”
With Will Matthews, Kirk Merritt, and a senior laden offensive line leading the way, the Wildcats have rushed for more than 3,200 yards and 40 touchdowns and are averaging more than 38 points per game.
“A key has been those senior offensive linemen. They are not very big guys, but they are athletic and aggressive and do a great job for us,” Robicheaux said.
For the season, Matthews has rushed for 1,424 yards, including a 9.3 yards per carry average, and 18 touchdowns. Merritt, a highly touted college prospect, is the Nike SPARQ Rating National Champion, which recognizes him as the nation’s best high school football athlete. He has totaled 900 rushing and receiving yards and nine TDs. Sophomore QB Marquise Darensbourg has done a sufficient job managing the offense. Darensbourg has passed for 1,408 yards and 11 TDs and rushed for another 260 yards and eight TDs.
In the first meeting with ESJ, Matthews and Merritt accounted for 226 yards rushing and all four touchdowns.
Destrehan’s stout defense, anchored by 6-foot-5, 310-pound junior tackle Glen Logan, yields less than 10 points per game and suffocates opposing ball carriers.
“We have the luxury of having probably the biggest defensive line we’ve ever had here. Our secondary is pretty good and we have mixed not only size but speed in our defense,” Robicheaux said. “How hard and how fast they play is impressive. To be able to do that with such size in the front creates a lot of problems for teams.”
East St. John (6-5), the 20th seed, upset District 8-5A champion and 13th-seeded John Ehret 28-18 last week to open the playoffs.
“We’re happy to be in the sweet 16 and we’re looking forward to the challenge. We’re looking forward to see if we can make some music with the dance,” East St. John coach Phillip Banko said. “We’re not caught up in the fact that it’s Destrehan. We’re focused on this week’s game and the opponent happens to be Destrehan.”
The Wildcats of St. John Parish are battle-tested and their 6-5 record is misleading. ESJ’s strength of schedule was among tops in the state. The Wildcats lost to Rummel and John Curtis in pre-district and to Destrehan, Thibodaux, and Hahnville in district play.
Combined, their opponents won more than 66 percent of their games and seven opponents reached the playoffs.
“We’ve played some heavyweights and some really good, talented teams,” Banko said. “We’ve seen the gamut and Destrehan is one of them. They’re a very talented, well-coached football team. There are only 16 teams left so everybody’s good. We’ve earned our way into a privileged 16. We’re relishing that but we’re also still hungry.”
East St. John appears to be peaking at the right time.
“We played our best game in all three phases two weeks ago and then last week we played an even better game in all three phases,” Banko said. “We’ve got some cats going both ways and they love it. They’re playing like Wildcats. They’re finally getting it together, and that’s what we need at this time of the year. Right now it’s about fundamentals and doing what you do best and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Quarterback/defensive back Xavier Lewis, RB/DB Nigel Anderson, and RB/LB Ahmani Martin are among ESJ’s two-way performers.
Lewis, Anderson, and receiver Jarrod Jackson are the primary playmakers on offense. All three have made Division I commitments — Lewis to LSU as a defensive back, Anderson to Tulane, and Jackson to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Lewis has 1,931 yards of total offense and has rushed for 11 touchdowns. Anderson leads the team in rushing with 990 yards and has scored nine times. Jackson is the top receiver with 36 catches for 582 yards and four TDs. In the previous meeting with Destrehan, Lewis rushed for 87 yards and passed for 166 yards, including 127 to Jackson who scored on a 28-yard reception.
Martin (95 tackles, seven interceptions), linebacker Daniel Ellis, DL Shawn Williams, and DBs Dontrell Allen, Shayhan Williams, and Antonio Parks spearhead the defense. Parks is an Arizona commitment.
The winner of Friday’s game may be facing another familiar opponent next week. Should Hahnville defeat Haughton, the Tigers would play either Destrehan or East St. John in the quarterfinals.