While the heated rivalry between Destrehan and Hahnville garners most of the attention, each team has another long-time district rival in the River Parishes — and one that appears to be back on the upswing under the direction of a new head coach.
Destrehan (4-1, 2-0) travels to Reserve to face off with East St. John (2-3, 1-1) in District 7-5A competition this Friday night, a year after the two teams squared off in overtime at Destrehan as DHS earned a hard-fought victory. There have been several tough battles between the teams over the years, with ESJ names like Ryan Perrilloux, D’haquille Williams and Alex Singleton no doubt more than familiar to Destrehan faithful.
East St. John enters the matchup with a record of 2-3 (1-1 in district play), but Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux sees a team that could easily be 4-1 at this point, with a pair of defeats coming by margins of two (16-14 to McDonogh No. 35) and one (7-6 at H.L. Bourgeois), respectively.
“The H.L. game they had to play in the slop, and that could have possibly gone a different way,” Robicheaux said. “The McDonogh No. 35 game was real tight. Talent-wise, I think that’s a 4-1 type of team. They have a lot of athletes and they know how to get them out in space.
“On top of that, it’s Destrehan and East St. John. It’s always a good rivalry and this is gonna be a dog fight.”
HOW EAST ST. JOHN ATTACKS: Robicheaux says ESJ is “an entirely different team” under the team’s first-year head coach, Brandon Brown, an ESJ alumnus.
“You see it on film. (Brown)’s a coach who believes in discipline and I think they’re well-coached,” Robicheaux said. “I think it’ll take a little time but that philosophy’s gonna serve them well and they’re gonna get rolling.”
Last year, playmaker Duke Crosby was ESJ’s quarterback, but this season he’s moved out to wide receiver a great deal as junior Sean Shelby takes snaps from center. Wide receiver Dontae Fleming is one of the team’s primary go to players at wide receiver, as is Crosby when he lines up there. Tailback Pershing Toney handles the bulk of the team’s rushing load, while Brown and his staff like to use tight end Hoxie Brown III both in-line and split out wide to pose matchup problems.
Defensively, East St. John’s shifted its philosophy in a way somewhat mirroring Destrehan’s own shift before the season: it’s a smaller team than in years past, putting more emphasis on speed, movement and attacking through the blitz.
Though ESJ allowed 42 points in its season-opening loss to Plaquemine, the approach has fit like a glove since, the Wildcats allowing point totals of 6, 16, 0 and 6 since.
BACK IN THE GAME: Last season, Champ Craven’s junior year effectively ended before it ever began, the safety suffering a knee injury very early in the Wildcats’ first game of the season.
It derailed a season, but Craven was obviously determined to make sure it didn’t derail his prep football career or anything beyond. He’s returned with fire and fury, recording 17.5 tackles (fourth on the team), two of those for a loss, and has intercepted two passes to go with a forced fumble. One could add another interception to his total were they to note his jamboree efforts against Lutcher— that play perhaps allowing Craven to start feeling comfortable on his repaired knee.
Last week, he tallied a sack and an interception, his return of the latter setting up a Wildcats’ touchdown.
“He was a little bit tentative on how that knee would hold up early on, but he’s definitely found his form,” Robicheaux said. “He’s giving us a lot of big plays when we’ve needed big plays. That’s the type of player he is. He’s always around the ball.”
Robicheaux believes Craven could earn his way to play on the collegiate level. The coach and his staff have long believed in his skills, Craven representing one of the rare Destrehan players to enter his sophomore year as a starter in 2016.