Wildcat Nation will forever look back fondly at 2022 as a true dream season – the Wildcats finally breaking through after annual deep playoff runs to win a state championship, going an unbeaten 14-0 with quarterback Jai Eugene earning LSWA All-State Offensive Player of the Year honors and Marcus Scott selected by the New Orleans Saints as its prep Coach of the Year.
But on Nov. 25, 2022, East St. John nearly spoiled it all.
That quarterfinal matchup between the teams at Joe Keller Memorial Stadium in Reserve came less than a month after the previous matchup between the two teams. It carried twice the stakes but half the fanfare, that due to the result of the first game between the then-unbeaten teams, a 48-7 Destrehan victory that decided the champion of District 7-5A.
Entering that quarterfinal, Destrehan had not been remotely challenged, finishing virtually all of its games in the first half. This was different. East St. John led 14-7 in the second half and grounded a high-octane Destrehan offense for most of the night to that point.
Destrehan rallied to take a 21-14 lead. Late in the fourth quarter East St. John’s Koyal Gray scored on a deep post off of a Yashua Mitchell pass to pull ESJ within one, 21-20, with 1:55 left. East St. John head coach Brandon Brown elected to go for a two-point conversion that would put his team ahead, perhaps for good. But Destrehan cornerback Travon Thomas broke up a Mitchell pass attempt, and moments later Destrehan recovered an onside kick, ran down the remainder of the clock and sealed a one-point victory that propelled them into the state semifinals.
Unlike both of those matchups, this time Destrehan (8-0, 4-0) plays host to East St. John (7-1, 4-1) on Friday night.
“They played well in that second game … we didn’t play so well,” said Scott. “They made plays and they deserve a lot of credit for how they played that second game. I was proud that we found a way.”
East St. John enters this game off of its first loss of the season. After going 7-0 with five blowout victories – fellow River Parish squads Hahnville and St. James the two teams that challenged ESJ in close battles – Terrebonne scored a 21-18 victory over East St. John in Houma.
Nonetheless, there are District 7-5A championship implications here. A Destrehan victory would secure at least a share of the 7-5A crown, with a chance to win it outright with a win next week. An East St. John win, meanwhile, would keep it alive for at least a share of the crown, with Terrebonne also in that mix as a one-loss team.
ESJ’s offense operates with two seniors at quarterback, Lorenzo Zeno and Kairan Smith each rotating in to see time. Dkhai Joseph and Koyal Gray are very dangerous receivers that can score on any touch. Elijah Frank leads the rushing attack.
“They have a lot of kids who can make plays … a really good receiving core, they have some good running backs and they play two quarterbacks who are both very capable of hurting us. We have a lot of respect for them and what they’re able to do.”
Joseph gets much of the attention for a reason.
“He’s a complete player. He can take a short pass and score, or he can take it over the top. (Gray) was a starter last year as well and he makes a lot of plays for them … really, that whole group is talented,” Scott said.
Scott said East St. John’s defensive speed stands out as always, with a very active and physical defensive line, Kyvan Fobb among its leaders. Dwayne Brown is a difference maker in the secondary who also excels in the return game.