More than most classifications, 5A playoff football can be quite the treacherous path, filled with lower seeded landmines even in round one. This year, in fact, saw five first round upsets with seeds of 19, 20, 23, 24 and 27 moving onto round two.
No. 7 seed Destrehan avoided such fate by besting No. 26 Ponchatoula, 48-34, in the opening round, but it will travel round two to face one of the aforementioned “Cinderellas”, in the form of No. 23 Covington, which took down No. 10 Sam Houston, 42-28, last week to advance. The teams square off at 7 p.m. Friday night.
Like many classic lower seeds to advance in the 5A playoffs over the years, the Covington team that took the field last week appears greater than the sum of its overall record and resume. The Lions began the season 1-3 before winning five of their last six to close the regular season. Defensively, Covington hit a peak level in that run, allowing 10, 6, 0, 13, 3 and 14 points to their respective opponents.
Destrehan and Covington match up in the spring for scrimmage fare traditionally, and the Wildcats have gotten the better of that exchange of late. But DHS head coach Stephen Robicheaux expects a Covington team that’s come leaps and bounds since this past spring to present a formidable challenge, particularly with the Lions hosting this week’s contest.
Covington’s red-hot defense is led by Oklahoma committed linebacker Edgerrin Cooper, a 6-foot-3, 225 pound linebacker who covers ground fast from sideline to sideline – and who undoubtedly will cross paths with Destrehan rusher and Alabama commitment Kyle Edwards on more than a few occasions this Friday.
“He’s got that size in the middle and he can run extremely well,” said Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux. “They have a defensive tackle in the middle of that line that frees (Cooper) up. He runs to the ball … there’s a reason why he’s headed to Oklahoma. He’s just a very good football player.”
Sam Houston can attest to Cooper’s ability. Last week Cooper returned two turnovers for touchdowns, including one of his two interceptions on the night and a fumble recovery. He also rushed for a touchdown on offense. Edwards rushed for 234 yards and five touchdowns, while fellow DHS rusher Razan Keller scored twice while topping 90 yards — something has to give.
A key to Covington’s success defensively, Robicheaux noted, is the versatility of its players and a flexible scheme to take advantage. The Lions can present several different fronts with the same personnel on the field, seamlessly transitioning from three, four and five man fronts if needed.
“They use the same personnel, but you’re never sure how they’ll line up based on that,” Robicheaux said. “They’ll bring a linebacker down to play end on the line, and they’re effective. It presents a lot of problems when you’re trying to run the football on those guys. It’ll be tough and we’ll have our hands full.”
Offensively, there’s also been a big jump for Covington, one Robicheaux believes can primarily be traced back to the move to shift Chandler Washington from defensive back to running back. Last week, Washington rushed four times for 88 yards before reportedly leaving the game with an injury. Destrehan will no doubt prepare for the Lions assuming he will be back Friday, and that means finding a way to limit the explosive plays he generates.
“We charted him the other day … he accounted for 15 or 16 explosive plays,” Robicheaux said. “He’s been a big addition for them. He’s a smaller back but he can fly … gets behind those big guys, and he goes.”
Running back Quintez Laurent ran 30 times for 156 yards and a touchdown, handling the majority of work in the Covington win.
Both rushers get rolling behind a big offensive line that has two players listed at 295 and two at 275.
For the Wildcats, the past month of play has seen its own defense hit another level seemingly, particularly in terms of its pass rush. DHS recorded seven sacks against Hahnville, and last week, LSU committed passer T.J. Finley on Ponchatoula was under fire several times, particularly in the first half of play.
“Coach (Malter) Scobel is doing a great job getting our guys in position to make plays,” Robicheaux said. “When you look at our front, we’re not very big besides Noah (Taliancich, defensive tackle and Tulane commitment), but we have a lot of guys who can move. Noah is really quick. Jhase Gooden has a quick first step. Michael Jackson, he’s 4.6 off the edge. So we have a lot of guys who let us get pressure, not only when we blitz the linebackers, but also from the down linemen.”