The question hanging in the air prior to Destrehan’s Class 5A round two playoff battle with visiting Woodlawn was simple: after seven games of dominance, how would the Wildcats react down the stretch of a close game?
Once Shane Lee broke loose late in the fourth quarter, the answer was clear.
Lee’s 40-yard touchdown run cemented a dramatic Destrehan win in the final minutes, 29-20, over a 13th seeded Panthers team that pushed Destrehan to its limit.
“I knew we had to put the game away,” Lee said. “(Woodlawn) is a good team and we had to finish the job. So, when they called on me, I just did what I had to do.”
No. 4 Destrehan will host No. 5 Ruston next week in the Class 5A quarterfinals. Ruston defeated Benton, 56-16, to advance.
“We had a couple situations where we really were up against the wall there, and the kids were able to rise to the occasion,” said Destrehan head coach Marcus Scott. “Hat’s off to Woodlawn. We knew what we saw on tape was a special team. You know Coach Randle’s gonna have them ready.”
All season, Destrehan has rode a four-headed monster of a running back stable, with Lee, Brandon Freeman, Trey Nixon and Patrick LeBranch all shining. It’s kept the group healthy and fresh for this postseason – and in the fourth quarter, a fresh Lee was a very, very dangerous runner.
“We have four kids who can play,” said Scott. “Shane is our downhill guy. Shane and LeBranch … whenever we have a chance to put the game away, we’re gonna put it in his hands and try to move some people off the ball.”
All night long, Destrehan’s defense blitzed Woodlawn quarterback and Purdue committed junior Rickie Collins, and for much of the game that relentless pressure kept the Panthers’ offense grounded.
“Rickie Collins is well-schooled … if you sit all night in zone, he’ll kill you,” Scott said. “And you saw some of the throws he made … we had him in third and long, he threw off his back foot and put it right in a receiver’s chest. What an unbelievable player.”
Late in the game, Collins began to find a groove – and that’s when things got interesting.
His quick release began to pay dividends and receivers Kyle Jones and Jaylon Henry began to gain chunks of yardage, making tough grabs even in tight coverage. Such was the case on Jones’ 19-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter to make it a 22-14 Destrehan lead.
Momentum shifted hard in Woodlawn’s favor when the Panthers’ defense stood tall to stop Lee short on a fourth-and-one. Collins led Woodlawn down to the Destrehan 1, where he punched it in himself to make it 22-20 with 4:21 remaining.
But on the game-tying attempt for two, a pass to Henry was first ruled complete, but then overruled as a drop by the officiating crew, the ball falling incomplete in tight coverage by the Wildcats’ defense.
“We knew the play was gonna come, but it was just a matter of stopping it,” said Scott. “They almost executed it … we saw it all week and the kids were able to make the play at the end.”
A two-point lead was hardly safe, however, and Destrehan still had work to do.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Lee. “We knew we had to protect the ball and close the game.”
Jai Eugene began the ensuing drive with a 17-yard keeper up the gut. Lee then took a carry for 12 yards. Destrehan kept pounding the ball on the ground until Lee found the seam he needed – racing through, past and finally away from the Woodlawn defense to put the game away.
Woodlawn stopped Destrehan on a fourth down play in the first half, setting up an eventual Jayveon Hayes touchdown run to give WHS a 7-0 lead.
Destrehan answered back, however, rattling off the next 22 points of the night. Jai Eugene found Daniel Blood for a 28-yard gain down to the Woodlawn 4 to set up the first points for the Wildcats, coming on a 1-yard Eugene touchdown run to tie the game.
A near disaster seemed to take place on Destrehan’s next possession when Woodlawn forced and recovered a fumble at the Woodlawn 40. But one play later, the DHS defense surged into the backfield and forced a fumble of its own when Kolaj Cobbins blew the play up, setting up what became a Brandon Freeman 20-yard touchdown run. The extra point attempt failed, making it 13-7.
Destrehan marched down the field to begin the second half, with Eugene punching in his second rushing score of the night with 9:58 left in the third quarter, making it 19-7 (two-point attempt failed). And a Will Bryant field goal added three more points to the total, giving DHS a 22-7 lead.
“It was a great high school football game. That’s what the second round is supposed to be. Hat’s off to Woodlawn, we just made a couple more plays,” Scott said.
Scott said the back-and-forth battle will only help his team going forward. Destrehan had won each of its previous games by 27 points or more, and Friday was a strong litmus test for the Wildcats.
“We made some mistakes and obviously Woodlawn had a lot to do with some of those. We had a few untimely penalties as well, and got past it. We didn’t have a lot of close games and we wanted to see how they would react in a situation where they had to pull together and rally, not be in the lead the whole game. So, that was really good to see them come together.”