Champions! Destrehan seals state championship with big plays in the clutch

Jai Eugene lets out a roat after scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown in Destrehan's state championship victory over Ruston Friday night. (Photo by Ellis Alexander)

Just days after saying he was going to the Superdome to live out his dream of winning a state championship, Destrehan running back Shane Lee crouched on the Dome turf, processing what he and his teammates had just accomplished.

The dream came true – for Lee, for the Destrehan Wildcats and for their roaring supporters in the stands.

Destrehan sealed the deal Friday night . The Wildcats are state champions – and undefeated state champions at that.

The third-seeded ‘Cats defeated top-seeded Ruston 17-10 in a Division I non-select championship game that came down to the final minute. Jai Eugene’s 29-yard touchdown run with 3:22 left in the fourth quarter put Destrehan up by a touchdown, and interceptions by Andrew Schaefer and Travon Thomas turned back Ruston on its final two drives to drive home the win.

Destrehan had reached at least the state semifinals in each of its previous four seasons, including one finish as state runner-up. A team that has consistently finished as one of the best can finally lay claim to being the very best.

“It feels unreal,” said Lee, who scored the game’s first touchdown. “After the last few years, falling short in the semis …  it just feels like I’m in a dream right now. It’s unreal.”

Said Eugene, “Coming from Destrehan is something I take pride in. I’m so thankful for the guys around me, man, for our coaches, for my teammates and everyone else who’s been part of what we’re doing.”

For weeks, Destrehan piled up lopsided win after lopsided win, but the question yet to be answered was how the team would respond when challenged for a full 48-minute game. They answered that resoundingly throughout their playoff run – this was not a group unfamiliar with pressure, as Friday’s win represents the 14th postseason win since this group of seniors joined the program as freshmen. They relied on every bit of that guile and experience against a Ruston team that fought the Wildcats to the bitter end.

“You have to stay together,” said Destrehan head coach Marcus Scott, who earned his first state championship victory as a head coach on Friday night. “We knew it would be tough. Ruston does things right. They work hard … and we knew this would be a really tight game. We had some early jitters … both teams did, and once both settled in, this was a pretty good football game.”

Destrehan, as it turned out, was ready to answer the bell one more time, coming up large in the game’s most critical moments.

Jai Eugene scores the go-ahead touchdown in Friday’s championship game. (Photo by Ellis Alexander)

“There’s a sign on our equipment room door that says, ‘We issue everything but guts.’ And these kids, these kids, they find a way,” Scott said. “They find a way to win. And the harder you work, the harder it is for you to surrender. That’s something the kids take pride in. No matter where they get the ball to start, our defense thinks it’s gonna get a stop. Wherever we get the ball on offense, we think we can put a drive together. Ball’s backed up and we have to punt out the endzone, we can protect and get it out.

“We have that confidence, but it all comes down to the harder you work, the more confident you can become.”

Wildcat Nation was in the stands and ready to celebrate after Eugene’s touchdown run and Schaefer’s interception of Ruston quarterback Jaden Osborne two plays later, with 2:48 left to play and Destrehan taking over near midfield. But the Bearcats forced a three-and-out, and the wait for Destrehan’s first championship since its back-to-back wins in 2007 and 2008 would have to be a bit longer – and perhaps an excrutiating and tense wait for many, as two replay reviews prolonged the game’s final minutes.

Destrehan forced three incompletions to begin Ruston’s final drive, putting the Bearcats in a fourth-and-10. Reminiscient of the late stages of the East St. John game in the quarterfinals, Osborne found his man on fourth and long, firing over the middle to Aaron Jackson for 16 yards. After a 6-yard Osborne run, he found Jackson again for 13 yards at the Destrehan 32-yard line, and Ruston was live to force overtime – or to attempt to win the game right there with a score and two-pointer.

The Wildcats’ defense stood tall and refused to allow things to get that far. Thomas – whose deflection on East St. John’s potential game-winning two-point pass proved the clinching play that week – intercepted Osborne at the 13-yard line with 47 seconds left.

And now, Wildcat Nation – on the field and in the stands alike – could celebrate.

Daniel Blood hauls in a catch (Photo by Ellis Alexander)

“Coach has been telling us that we deserve this, that all the hard work we put in would eventually pay off,” said Anthony Robinson, who played both sides of the ball, at running back and safety for the Wildcats on Friday and throughout the playoffs. “And now we’re living it.”

For Destrehan, Eugene finished with 12 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown and passed for 158 yards through the air. Daniel Blood caught six passes for 118 yards. The Wildcats’ defense held Ruston to under 100 yards rushing. Arrington Adams was a big part of that – the linebacker tallied a game-high 13 tackles.

Likewise, Ruston wouldn’t be run over at the line of scrimmage either, holding Destrehan to 125 yards on 33 attempts, and Lee to 28 yards on 16 carries. Ruston’s Jadon Mayfield led the team in tackles with nine while also recording a sack. Aaron Jackson hauled in nine receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.

The Bearcats (13-1) couldn’t keep Lee out the endzone, though, as the bruising junior punched in the first points of the night on a 5-yard run to cap Destrehan’s second drive of the night with 9:21 left in the first quarter. That play was set up by a Eugene pass to Blood for 57-yards on a second-and-9 play.

Defensively, Destrehan (14-0) was hot to start the game. It forced Ruston into three consecutive three-and-outs, then the night’s first big splash defensive play as Kevin Adams forced a fumble and Anthony Robinson recovered it and returned it the RHS 2 to end the Bearcats’ fourth possession early in the second quarter – and set up Destrehan to possibly go ahead by two scores.

The touchdown wasn’t to be – Ruston’s defense hit Lee for a loss on first down, then penalties and a sack of Eugene by Mayfield forced Destrehan to try a field goal. Ryan Lacy drilled the kick and put his team ahead 10-0.

Ruston badly needed a spark, and Jordan Hayes supplied it on special teams. His kickoff return of 52 yards set Ruston up in DHS territory, then a facemask to top off the play set the Bearcats up in very strong position at Destrehan’s 16. Osborne attempted two passes to the endzone, and the second connected as he and Jackson combined for a 16-yard touchdown to pull Ruston within three points and the eventual 10-7 halftime score.

The Bearcats found a bit of a groove offensively late in the first half and early in the second half, but two drives came up empty after missed field goal attempts. But Ruston kicker R.J. Brown got back on track by capping Ruston’s first drive of the fourth quarter with a 24-yard game-tying field goal, as Ruston began to churn first downs via the run.

With 5:21 left, Destrehan needed a response and put together a drive that will be remembered for years to come – and one perhaps only made possible via the chemistry built between a passer and a receiver who have played together for four years.

Needing to convert a third-and-9, Eugene fired a ball to Blood for a 15-yard catch. On the very next play, Eugene dialed up Blood again for 12-yards. Two plays later, after a penalty set Destrehan back to a second-and-17, Eugene found Blood one more time, this time for a 28-yard gain to the Ruston 31.

The Bearcats forced Destrehan into one final long yardage situation – a third and 8 at the 29-yard line. Eugene dropped back, then pulled the ball down and took off through the middle of the line, then cut toward the sideline – and he was off to the races, evading a final few tackle attempts while staying inbounds for a 29-yard touchdown.

“We had a vertical play called, and they had it pretty much covered for the most part,” said Eugene. “The first thing going through my head was to do what I do best and score.”

The win represents the fifth state championship in Destrehan’s history.


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