His voice choked with emotion, Destrehan High School football coach Stephen Robicheaux had one question for his team Friday night.
“This is a different feeling from last year, isn’t it?” he asked, twice. To which his team replied, “Yes sir,” Both times.
Last year at this time the Wildcats were fighting tears after losing in the Class 5A semifinals to Acadiana 35-7. But Friday night they were feeling nothing but joy after fighting off a furious West Monroe rally to take a 27-22 victory to advance to next week’s finals.
The No. 4 seeded Wildcats (14-0) will take on No. 15 Acadiana (10-4), which defeated Zachary 9-3. It will be Destrehan’s first trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome since winning the Class 5A championship in 2008 — against West Monroe.
The Rebels finished the season 11-3.
To get this one, Destrehan had to go back to its old ways. Long considered a passing team, the Wildcats have cruised through this season with a strong running game. But West Monroe would have none of that Friday.
The Rebels held Destrehan to 64 yards on the ground. Workhorse running back Will Matthews, who has led the team with more than 1,700 yards this season, was held to 64 yards on 20 carries. Matthews did score a pair of short-yard touchdowns and got the biggest first down of the night with a little more than a minute to play to preserve the win.
“Man, coach said we need one more first down,” Matthews said. “So, I got the ball and just kept pushing and pushing and pushing. I wasn’t trying to go down. Actually, if I could have scored, I would have scored.”
But the breakout player of the game was sophomore quarterback Kohen Granier. With the ground game grounded and starter Marquise Darensbourg shut down by the Rebels, it fell on the first-year player to carry the load.
Granier completed 10 of 13 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. His first throw late in the first quarter — after the Wildcats had gone three-and-out twice and given up a field goal — was a 50-yard strike to Tramaine Armstrong. His second was a 15-yard touchdown to Alfred Smith on the next play, putting Destrehan ahead 7-3.
“I knew it was a big game, I knew we had to make big plays to win, and I knew that they trusted me,” Granier said. “They had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself. It was different. It was the best feeling in the world.”
Just about everything went the Wildcats’ way in the first half as the Rebels, who hadn’t turned the ball over at all in the past two weeks, coughed it up twice in the first half. Both led to Destrehan touchdowns, letting the Wildcats take a 21-3 halftime lead.
But the momentum swung in the second half. After Destrehan backed the Rebels up to their own 1, West Monroe went on a 99-yard drive capped by a 32-yard fight to the end zone by Devonte Williams.
Ian Alexander’s PAT made it 21-10, Destrehan leading. Then the Rebels pulled a trick out of the book, recovering an onside kick.
Seven plays — and a Destrehan pass interference penalty — later, Slade Bolden scored from the 11. But the Rebels’ 2-point try failed, leaving West Monroe trailing 21-16.
A Destrehan fumble led to the next Rebels touchdown, another Bolden run, this time from the 15. The Rebels again went for 2 and again failed, but led 22-21 with 2:41 remaining.
But Destrehan wasn’t done. Granier took the Wildcats from their own 35 to the 6. On fourth-and-inches, a hard count got the Rebels to jump offsides. On the next play, Matthews ran in from the 3. The Wildcats’ two-point try failed, but Destrehan led 27-22 with 10:57 remaining.
West Monroe had two more chances, but Destrehan’s defense stopped the Rebels at the Destrehan 30 with 7:30 remaining. Then with 1:36 remaining, the Rebels were stopped short of a first down by a foot and turned the ball back over to the Wildcats.
The Rebels rushed for 337 yards and finished with 400 yards of offense. But two interceptions, two fumbles and crucial mistakes proved to be their downfall.
“Well, it’s a game of mistakes,” West Monroe coach Jerry Arledge said. “We made some at crucial times and when you make those, whether it be jumping offsides or fumbling the ball. I thought our kids fought back. We tell our kids all the time, ‘You don’t win or lose a ball game in the first half.’”