After it found itself in the rare position of being counted out of the championship mix by many observers at midseason, Destrehan’s played with a huge chip on its shoulder, game after game after game.
It’s added up to seven wins in a row, and now that chip is on the verge of delivering a ‘Ship.
The No. 7 seeded Wildcats overcame a few twists and turns during a spirited rally by No. 11 Haughton at Wildcat Stadium Friday night, making play after play when it mattered most en route to a 27-17 victory in the Class 5A semifinals, clinching a trip to the 5A championship game next week at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Destrehan will face top-seeded Acadiana next week, the third Superdome meeting between the two teams to decide a state crown. The teams split the previous two matchups, Destrehan winning 41-21 in 2007 and Acadiana earning a 23-7 win in 2014. Acadiana advanced to this year’s final with a win over Zachary in the other semifinal game, dethroning the two-time defending champion Broncos.
The Wildcats (11-3) sealed their semifinal victory by forcing three critical turnovers down the stretch, including Jaden Harding’s game-clinching interception with 2:13 left to play in the game. Kyle Edwards scored three rushing touchdowns and had 209 yards on 27 carries to lead the Destrehan offense. His touchdown runs included a rumble from midfield that extended Destrehan’s lead to 17 midway through the fourth quarter.
“I can’t even put it into words right now. I’m so happy for the community, all our coaches and players … I’m just ecstatic right now,” said defensive tackle Noah Taliancich, whose second half fumble recovery short circuited a Haughton drive deep into Destrehan territory. “We didn’t want to let them run the ball. We made them air it out. They have a great quarterback and great receivers, but we came out on top and that’s all that matters.”
DHS head coach Stephen Robicheaux will be guiding his team to its fourth title game appearance during his tenure as head coach. It likely ranks among the most satisfying of those instances. Destrehan fell to 4-3 after seven weeks, and instead of being content to chalk things up as a down season, his team came together for a decisive win at Thibodaux, the first of seven wins in a row.
“It’s amazing. They kinda counted us out,” Robicheaux said. “Now, we’re playing in the state championship game. Hats off to Haughton. They’ve got a great team, their quarterback it very good, they were as advertised. But our kids played hard and got it done when we had to. And so we keep playing.”
Destrehan led 13-10 at halftime on the back of two Edwards touchdowns, including one from 49 yards away to put the first points of the night on the scoreboard.
“That was thanks to them,” Edwards said, gesturing to his offensive line. “If you guys saw that gap … all I had to do was run. When you make a hole that big, I can’t take the credit. It was incredible.”
Haughton, meanwhile, had its offense revved up behind the efforts of quarterback Peyton Stovall – who was elusive and accurate throughout the night en route to 348 yards passing – and a talented group of receivers, including Tristan Sweeney who hauled in a touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Destrehan tightened up defensively to start the third quarter and forced a three-and-out. Destrehan quarterback Damarius Jackson connected with emerging freshman receiver Daniel Blood for a big gain. Jackson made another big throw on a second and 14, finding Quincy Brown over the middle for a 31-yard touchdown that pushed Destrehan ahead 20-10.
Haughton drove into Destrehan territory and had the ball at the DHS 11 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers (11-3) reached into their bag of tricks to try to cut the lead to three, but after two handoffs set up wide receiver C.J. McWilliams on the edge, he fumbled the ball as he reached back for a potential pass. Taliancich scooped it for the turnover.
“You know, I thought about it … should I jump on this or pick it up,” Taliancich said. “I felt pretty confident I could scoop it. I didn’t get too many yards there … That was my first time ever picking it up and running with it, and to do it in this game, with these stakes, it was the best feeling ever.”
The two defenses traded stops. Destrehan, after two consecutive three-and-outs, looked to grind the time down. They did one better after a third and three conversion throw from Jackson to Quincy Brown: Destrehan brought in some of its key defensive starters to help run block, and the very next play Edwards sprung loose for a touchdown run to make it 27-10.
Though it seemed like the game was over, Haughton did not go quietly. Stovall connected with McWilliams for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 3:52 left to play. Then all of Destrehan likely felt a lump in their throat when a high bounce on an onside kick went in Haughton’s favor for a recovery.
“It made me think of the Saints and the Falcons,” Robicheaux said. “He made a great kick, got a perfect bounce.”
Stovall completed two balls for chunks of yardage before Destrehan’s Lynard Harris recovered a fumble to end that threat.
After a Destrehan punt, Haughton took over and attempted to make one last push. Stovall’s heave to the endzone was picked off by Harding to close things out.
“I saw the ball go up and thought, ‘I’ve gotta make a play,’” Harding said. “It was pretty awesome. We’ve been playing as a team and it’s why we’re doing so well. Our defensive line stops the run and in the secondary, we know we’ve gotta step up and make those plays when it’s there.”
Edwards, a senior, was part of Destrehan teams that reached the state semifinals in two of its previous three seasons. This time, the Wildcats broke through, though his former teammates from those losses were in his mind in Friday’s game.
“I played really hard tonight, all for those guys who got robbed of it their senior year,” Edwards said. “I wanted to get this win and get to the Dome for them. And of course, now I want us to win it all for them.”
Jackson finished the night with eight completions in 10 attempts for 85 yards and a score. Brown was his top receiver with 55 yards on five catches. Daniel Blood tallied 28 yards on two catches. Defensively, Harris shined with 12 solo tackles. Kelvin Lea and Dylan Whitted each recorded a sack while Taliancich, Dylan Gibbs and Jhase Gooden combined for seven tackles for loss.
A team with strong senior leaders but also stocked with several underclassmen starters, this wasn’t circled as ‘the year’ for Destrehan, a program that has several unbeaten regular seasons in recent seasons but that fell to third place in District 7-5A this season.
The Wildcats? They don’t care. They’re Domeward Bound.
“I’m so happy for these kids,” Robicheaux said. “These kids stayed with the program. They stayed with Destrehan High School, they stayed with what we had to do to be successful. And we’re going to the Superdome.”