DESTREHAN - The stage was set. The pundits had made their predictions. Every neutral party assumed an easy Destrehan win. And then Hahnville showed up and nearly pulled off what could have been the biggest upset of the year.
The Tigers came in with a simple game plan: run the ball and keep it away from the Wildcat offense. The keys to most Destrehan wins are turnovers and long yardage offensive plays, which means that the Wildcats can score a lot of points in a very short amount of time. The Tigers thought that if they kept the ball away from the offense and the defensive backs they may be able to put up enough points to win. However, the Destrehan defensive backs still managed to intercept two passes that thwarted two possible Tiger scores and blocked a punt. Those opportunities were all Destrehan needed to pull off a victory in the closing seconds with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ramal Ellis to Edwin Reed.
With the win, the Destrehan Wildcats remain undefeated in district play and overall. This week, the Wildcats will face unbeaten East St. John in Reserve for the district title and perhaps the number one ranking in the state for the playoffs.
Destrehan will have to contain the run better this week against one of the toughest running backs in the state, Johnny Owen. The East St. John quarterback, Johnnie Thiel is a great player in his own right as well, but Destrehan can handle a great passing attack thanks to its corps of defensive backs and linebackers.
East St. John has one of the top defensive backs in the state in Stefoin Francois, but he can only cover one wide receiver. And Destrehan has four or five receivers that can make any team pay six points for a busted coverage. The rest of East St John's defensive backs are mere mortals, meaning that if Destrehan can stay away from Francois and if East St. John can keep the ball on the ground, the score of this game could be astronomical.
Head coach Steve Robicheaux says that he is going to prepare for East St. John the same way he prepares for every team: to have his team ready to play.
"We're hoping to have a good week of practices, but in this district you have to be ready to play every week. We know this is going to be a big game for us this week and hopefully we can take it and get some momentum going into the playoffs," said Robicheaux.
Hahnville, meanwhile, will try to salvage one win out of the district season and keep themselves over .500 against the Assumption Mustangs. Both teams will be trying to stay out of last place, but both will likely end up in the playoffs because of their undefeated pre-district records.
The Mustangs gave John Ehret the closest fight in district but were really never able to stay with any other team. Quarterback James Landry and wide receiver Damien Jefferson are the two best Assumption has to offer. So if Hahnville can contain them, they have a good chance of winning. Another key is the health of Hahnville quarterback Early James who was injured in last week's game. If James is able to go, the Tigers should be able to prevent themselves from getting shut out in district.
Last Friday despite gaining 386 yards on offense to Destrehan's 178, the Hahnville Tigers fell 17-14 to the Wildcats in one of the closest games in the history of the rivalry.
A seven-yard catch by wide receiver Edwin Reed for a touchdown with just six seconds left gave the Wildcats their ninth victory of the season.
"We were excited that we were able to put ourselves in a position to make a play to win the game," said Robicheaux. "Hahnville had a good gameplan of ball control and they played their tails off. But we knew we had a shot at the end and Edwin Reed was able to come down with the ball."
The Tigers were juggernauts on the ground with running back Jordan Stephany carrying 31 times for 194 yards and a touchdown and James taking the ball 19 times for 133 yards and a touchdown. In comparison, the Wildcats only had 77 yards rushing.
However, as in most great games, the defense dictated the winner. Defensive back Trey Watkin's blocked punt led to Destrehan's first score while his fourth quarter 63-yard interception started the Tigers' downfall. And defensive back Darrow Barnes' circus-style interception in the Tiger endzone prevented Hahnville from taking a 14-10 lead in the second quarter.
The game started with an 84-yard Hahnville drive that took up more than eight minutes of the first quarter. Alternating rushes by James and Stephany brought the Tigers to the Wildcat 20-yard line. Then an 18-yard run by running back Ivory Washington gave Early James an easy two-yard spin into the endzone putting the Tigers up 7-0.
Destrehan then went three and out, but their defense rebounded on the next Tiger drive. After a first down and a short gain, James was sacked by defensive linemen Darrington Sentimore and Charles Chiasson. Then on fourth down, Watkins blocked the Tiger punt, giving the Wildcats great field position at the Hahnville 37.
A Hahnville penalty and a 10-yard Jerrico Nelson run put Destrehan in the red zone. The Wildcats then thought they had a touchdown when Ellis seemingly completed a 14-yard pass to Reed in the endzone, but the officials ruled no catch bringing up fourth down. Then kicker Ryan Rome split the uprights on a 32-yard field goal, cutting the Hahnville lead to 7-3 with just under 11 minutes left in the first half.
Hahnville put together another long drive that finally stalled out at the Destrehan 12-yard line. A 29-yard field goal was attempted but missed.
That gave Destrehan the opportunity they needed. After two incompletions and a penalty, it did not look good for the Wildcats, but a 30-yard reception to wide receiver Tim Molton gave Destrehan a first down and new life. Ellis took the game into his own hands and bored a hole through the Hahnville defense 33 yards down to the Hahnville 22-yard line. On the next play, Ellis found wide receiver Lionel Washington on a short route that produced a 22-yard touchdown catch and run. With the extra point, the Wildcats now led 10-7 with three minutes left in the half
Yet another long Hahnville drive followed, but the Tigers were forced to take to the air because the clock was running out. And that is exactly what Destrehan wanted them to do as defensive back Darrow Barnes intercepted a James pass in the endzone, preserving Destrehan's lead into halftime.
Hahnville came out in the second half with another quarter-eating 80-yard drive that ended in a one-yard Stephany touchdown. But James was injured early in the drive and had to leave for a few plays. He returned on a third and long to complete a 25-yard first down reception to B.J. Young, but he was clearly hobbled by the injury. However, the Tigers had regained the lead 14-10 with just under a minute remaining in the third quarter.
After the Wildcats were forced to punt on their next possession, Tiger fans were getting excited. And after Stephany single-handedly brought the Tiger offense to the Destrehan 31, the visitors' side of the stadium was pure bedlam. That excitement would shift to the opposite side of the stadium in just two plays. After a three-yard loss the Tigers were facing a third down. And they took to the air again to try to score. But this time Trey Watkins was there to make the pick and ran 63 yards to the Hahnville 27-yard line.
With the madness shifting in the stadium, the Wildcats pumped their fans up even more with a 10-yard first down run from Nelson. However, things went sour and four plays later, the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs.
With the time on the clock fast approaching two minutes, the Hahnville fans were slowly regaining their confidence. A first down run by Young gave the Tigers four more downs. Another Young run seemingly sealed the victory with another first down, but a holding penalty called it back and the Tigers were forced to punt with just over 30 seconds left in the game.
And this is where a backup quarterback in just his third career start showed that he now is the leader of the Destrehan Wildcats. After an incompletion Ramal Ellis connected with wide receiver Damaris Johnson on a short route. Johnson then ran the ball down to the seven. The Wildcats hurried to the line and Ellis spiked the ball, killing the clock. With just a few seconds left, Ellis tried to find Reed in the endzone, but the ball was dropped. On the next play, they tried the exact same spot and this time Reed was sure-handed and sure-footed as he dragged his feet through the endzone for a game-winning touchdown.
With the win, the Wildcats improve to 9-0 overall and 4-0 in district while the Tigers fall to 5-4 overall and 0-4 in district.