Destrehan, East St. John set for rematch in state quarterfinals

Kevin Adams following interception in 4th quarter of the Wildcats' victory over Dutchtown last week.

Less than a month following their District 7-5A determining showdown, Destrehan and East St. John are preparing to face one another one more time.

The River Parish rivals will collide again in Reserve, this time in the Division I non-select quarterfinals as No. 3 seed Destrehan visits East St. John with a trip to the state semifinals on the line. East St. John will host the game as the lower seed because it traveled to Haughton in round two, while Destrehan hosted its round two victory over Dutchtown.

Destrehan (11-0) won the last meeting between the teams in lopsided fashion. DHS coach Marcus Scott said his team knows East St. John (11-1) will be determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again, and that what was a wild, playoff-like atmosphere a few weeks ago will be all the more intense. Handling that scenario with a level head is the challenge Destrehan must take on, he said.

“Being able to settle down as fast as possible and just play,” said Scott, who is 2-0 at Destrehan in the quarterfinal round. “We’ve talked to them about recognizing the big picture … it’s about playing to a standard and continuing to improve each week, even this deep into the season. There’s still a lot of improvement to be had.

“It should be another big crowd, just like the last time. Our focus doesn’t change – we’re preparing for a good opponent and we need to go out there with our best effort … this is a rematch and this one is certainly under different circumstances. We’re familiar with each other. We’re expecting a tough, very competitive game.”

Last week, No. 27 Haughton – which upset No. 6 Airline in round one – rallied from a 14-0 deficit to tie East St. John at 14. From there, though, ESJ scored 21 unanswered points to seize control and advance, 35-21. ESJ’s Yashua Mitchell passed for 268 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the win.

East St. John returned 15 starters from its squad a year ago. Eight of those 15 come from the defensive side, where head coach Brandon Brown has developed a reputation for his stoppers as a hard-hitting, stingy group from year to year. The team’s talented front includes end Elijah Frank, a strong pass-rushing force. Dwayne Brown plays all over the field as a safety, corner and linebacker depending on the play.

On offense, Mitchell is having a tremendous season at quarterback. Mitchell took over at quarterback for the Wildcats at midseason a year ago, but was injured in Week 9. Since his return, he has fulfilled the high expectations the program has had for him.

“That kid is going to make plays,” said Scott. ‘He’s a good player. You can try your best to limit him, but you also know they have good players, good coaches and they’re going to make adjustments.”

Returning All-District running back Cortez Fisher has been a cornerstone of this offense for awhile now, and this season he is complimented by the hard-running George Martin. Tight end Devin Davis is a big target and weapon down the seam. D’hki Joseph can really run at wide receiver, as can Koyal Gray, who can score from anywhere on the field – in Week 5 at Hahnville, Gray scored touchdowns of 41 and 95 yards off Mitchell passes. In the matchup between DHS and ESJ in Week 9, Gray got loose for another 32-yard score. ESJ also has a strong, experienced offensive line.

In the teams’ Week 9 showdown, Destrehan stunned the sold-out crowd in Reserve by immediately seizing control of what became a 48-7 district championship sealing win, scoring all 48 of its points prior to halftime. In a game that many predicted would be the first of the season to see a team take No. 1 ranked Destrehan into the fourth quarter of a tight game, instead Destrehan all but ended the matter in less than a quarter. Shane Lee’s second of three touchdowns on the night with eight seconds left in the opening quarter gave Destrehan a 28-7 lead.

At approximately two minutes into the game, Destrehan led 14-0. DHS scored touchdowns on three of its first four offensive plays, including three straight plays resulting in a touchdown. Lee – and a dominating Destrehan offensive line – set the tone early, racing for a 41-yard gain to start things off. Eugene did the rest, scoring on a 22-yard keeper to push Destrehan ahead 7-0.

Destrehan’s defense was similarly not interested in waiting to make an impact. Andrew Schafer’s interception of East St. John passer Yashua Mitchell and return to the ESJ 2. Lee punched it in to make it 14-0.

East St. John scored on Gray’s reception to make it 14-7, but Destrehan controlled the night from there with a large contribution from Lee, who rushed for more than 140 yards in less than a half of work.

Playing an opponent for a second time, particularly with the rematch in such close proximity to the first game, brings its own challenges. Both teams will make adjustments, but one can be almost certain East St. John will approach this matchup at a different angle than the first in order to swing things to its end.

“It’s a cat and mouse game,” Scott said. “You really don’t know what to expect, that goes for either side. They have to execute and make some changes here and there … it’s a different game. You just never know. All you can do is focus on simply playing well.”

 

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