While there were those who may have written off 2019 as a down year for Destrehan as the Wildcats stood with a record of 4-3, a deep run into the playoffs wouldn’t have necessarily been that difficult for anyone to envision: this is Destrehan, after all.
But it’s quite unlikely anyone foresaw the Wildcats readying themselves to host their third playoff game in four weeks this Friday night, as Destrehan welcomes Haughton to Wildcat Stadium with a trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Class 5A championship game on the line.
Haughton (11-2), the 5A bracket’s No. 11 seed, defeated No. 19 Mandeville last week at Haughton, 34-14. It edged No. 27 Comeaux a week prior, 23-21, and bested Ouachita Parish 28-7 in the first round.
Destrehan (10-3), meanwhile, rides in on a huge wave of momentum following its dramatic 20-17 victory last week over No. 2 West Monroe at Wildcat Stadium. Sophomore Will Bryant’s game-winning kick was the capper to a tight, tense defensive battle that spurred Destrehan into its second consecutive state semifinal and its fifth semifinal round in seven seasons.
“I think we learned a lot about ourselves over those three losses we had,” said Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux, who will be attempting to guide his team to the Superdome for the fourth time in his tenure with the program. “We maybe tried to do some things we weren’t capable of doing. I think it may be (offensive coordinator Greg Boyne’s) best year of adapting our offense to our situation and strengths. More short passing and running the football … it seems to be our ticket.”
An upset in round one by Covington, which knocked off No. 10 Sam Houston, put the Wildcats on the road in round two but set up the course of events that allowed for home games in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds.
“In some ways, Covington was our MVP, because they scored that win and it resulted in West Monroe coming here,” Robicheaux said.
On paper, each of Destrehan’s past two matchups projected run-heavy, defensive battles between the teams, and each time it’s been exactly how it played out. The semifinal matchup with Haughton could yield much of the same.
On a prep football landscape full of spread offenses and video game-esque scoring, Haughton has allowed more than 14 points in a game just four times all season, including the playoffs.
As one might expect, that production comes from a unit boasting playmakers at every level, starting with 6’3 senior defensive end Khaylon Chapple. Junior linebacker Sean Hardison covers a lot of ground at middle linebacker, while in the secondary, twin brothers Jonathan and Jacob Stephens — the sons of the late John Stephens, who was an NFL standout and Pro Bowler— are ballhawks.
“They do a good job staying in their gaps and playing a really disciplined game,” Robicheaux said of the defense. “Chapple makes a lot of plays. Hardison does a good job behind him, and those corners, they’re both commits and they’re carbon copies of one another. They both play the football really well.”
The Buccaneers’ success is also a function of a talented offense that has most often controlled the ball in its games and, along with it, the tempo.
Running back Keyshawn Davis rushed for 131 yards on 20 carries in last week’s victory. He’s topped 100 yards in each of the Buccaneers’ playoff wins. Quarterback Peyton Stovall accounted for four touchdowns, two through the air and two on the ground, while passing for 188 yards. His favorite targets are wide receivers Tristan Sweeney, Matthew Whitten and C.J. McWilliams, and Robicheaux said Stovall can go to any of them at any time to make a key play.
“(Stovall) is a great athlete. Just like our game with Thibodaux, their quarterback reminded me of (former DHS quarterback) Kohen Granier, so does Stovall. “He can run the ball and he can throw it real well. He’s committed to play baseball, so you know he’s a good athlete. And he has a lot of guys around him to make plays.”
Destrehan has leaned on its own formula of a powerful running game, a controlled and opportunistic passing attack and lights out defense.
Those are similarities, but in other ways, the programs are quite different: Haughton is an ascending program, but one that is getting its first taste of the Class 5A semifinals and last week reached its first 5A quarterfinal. The Buccaneers’ had last reached a playoff quarterfinal in 2010, with a familiar name to football fans leading the charge: Dak Prescott, now the starting quarterback of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Head coach Jason Brotherton has led the program to a surge in success, and a win over Destrehan at this stage of the playoffs would fit the definition of a program-shaping victory.
There is one other way these teams are similar, however: both likely entered the playoffs more talented than their seed indicated, Destrehan at No. 7 and Haughton at No. 11. Both teams battled significant injuries throughout the year: the Wildcats’ slump of three losses in four games at midseason coincided with an injury to starting quarterback Damarius Jackson, while Bryant—who showed his mettle in last week’s clutch moment—was quite missed in a one-point loss to East St. John. Haughton, conversely, lost Stovall, McWilliams and Davis for periods of time after a 5-0 start, leading to a pair of losses that, like DHS, cost the team its hopes of a district championship.
It derailed neither from an opportunity to reach the Superdome, however.
LOOKING AHEAD: You certainly won’t catch the Wildcats, nor the Buccaneers, doing so. That said, the winner of their semifinal will face an opponent quite familiar to local and statewide prep fans alike: No. 1 Acadiana will host No. 5 Zachary Friday night.
Zachary is the two-time defending Class 5A champion and winners of the crown in three of the past four seasons. The Broncos topped Destrehan in a wild semifinal shootout two years ago, 64-54 on a rainy night. They’ve also been an annual playoff foe of Hahnville during that stretch, including the past two seasons and a battle in the Superdome for the 5A title in 2017.
Acadiana and Destrehan, meanwhile, also have history: were the two teams to advance, it would result in the third Superdome meeting between the teams for the 5A championship. They’ve split those games, Destrehan besting Acadiana in 2007, 41-21, and Acadiana earning the win in 2014, 23-7.