Familiar foe represents final obstacle between Destrehan and state championship

Shane Lee and Destrehan roll into the Superdome this Friday night to battle Ruston for the Division I non-select championship.

With eight state semifinal appearances in the past 10 seasons, Destrehan has left no doubt it belongs in the upper tier among the state’s elite programs.

But the one prize that has eluded the Wildcats over that stretch has been a state championship, something the 13-0 Wildcats have full intent of changing when it charges onto the Superdome turf to take on top-seeded Ruston in the Division I non-select championship game.

Destrehan got here after a 24-6 victory at home over No. 10 Westgate in last week’s semifinal matchup. For DHS head coach Marcus Scott, it was his fourth semifinal game in his last five seasons as a head coach – one coming at John Ehret in 2018 – and first victory. Of course, that means another first as Scott prepares for his first championship game as a head coach.

Has it sunk in yet?

“I’d have to say yes, because it doesn’t take long for that excitement to start up around here,” Scott said. “It hits pretty quickly.”

This will be the third matchup in three seasons between these schools, as Destrehan has eliminated Ruston in the quarterfinal round of the 5A playoffs in the past two years. As is the case with Destrehan, this Ruston (12-1) team is the most accomplished of the past three, and last week the Bearcats made a statement in a dismantling of 2021 5A champion Zachary, a 37-22 win in which Ruston led 31-7 in the fourth quarter.

“We have a lot of respect for each other,” Scott said. “Each of the two (quarterfinal games) have been different, and I expect this one to be different too. But at the same time, it should be another close, hard-fought game.”

The No. 3 seeded Wildcats reached the state final in 2019 – most seniors on this year’s team experienced that run – and 2014, but fell short of victory each time. Prior to that, Destrehan’s last title game appearances came in 2007 and 2008, a time Wildcat fans no doubt have a special fondness in their hearts for: Destrehan won both, part of back-to-back undefeated seasons and a 30-game winning streak, the most dominant stretch of football in school history.

For Destrehan, a championship victory would commemorate one of the most consistent stretches of postseason success at the 5A level over the past decade.

But for Ruston, this has been about re-establishing itself as a state power, and a championship would be the ultimate signal it’s reached that goal.

The Bearcats are competing in their first state championship game since 1998. That year in and of itself was something of a return to prominence for a program that had precious few peers in the 1980s: Ruston reached the state semifinals or finals in 9 of 10 years that decade, including five finals appearances – and four state crowns. The last of those stands as Ruston’s last title victory, in 1990. 32 years later, it seeks to return to the top of the mountain.

To do it, the Bearcats have to slay their personal Goliath. After reaching just one quarterfinal since 2007, Ruston marched to the quarterfinal round in back-to-back seasons in 2020 and 2021. Each time, Destrehan claimed victory: 24-10 last season, and 6-0 two years ago to eliminate the Bearcats.

The 6-0 score perhaps speaks for itself in that the game was a total defensive slugfest, one won on the back of Tyler Morton’s scoop and score of a fumble for the game’s only points. However, the 24-10 victory was also closer than the score perhaps appears: Destrehan came through with two critical stops of Ruston inside the DHS 10-yard-line to secure the win.

There is little doubt that the best version of each team in this series will be on the field Friday night.

Ruston reached this point with wins over Ouachita Parish, Denham Springs and Zachary, the latter a 37-22 victory that saw the Bearcats dominate – they led 31-7 at one point in the fourth quarter.

The key to that win, arguably – and what Scott believes is what makes Ruston so dangerous – is the way the Bearcats controlled the ball. Zachary was held to just 14 plays on three offensive series in the first half of its game with Ruston, partially because of a stifling defense, partially because the Bearcats have built a mammoth offensive line and stellar rushing attack.

“They play good defense and offensively, they can hold the ball and put together some really long drives,” Scott said. “I think that’s been the key for them, plus in terms of offensive style, you usually don’t see that kind of offense. So, it means there’s an adjustment for people,” Scott said.

Dyson Fields and Jordan Hayes are the running backs who carry the load for Ruston’s power rushing, tight end heavy offense. Fullback Jadon Mayfield is also key to making it all go.

The conductor is Jaden Osborne, the team’s quarterback and a player that Scott says gives the Bearcats that extra dimension of being able to attack vertically. Like Wildcats quarterback Jai Eugene, Osborne is a three-year starter at the position, making Friday a matchup between passers who have just about seen it all on the prep landscape.

“He brought that team to the quarterfinals in each of his first two seasons, and now to the championship game. He’s been effective for a long time,” said Scott. “He has a very good group of wide receivers as well.”

Among them is Aaron Jackson, a downfield target with size that the Destrehan secondary will be locked in on.

Defensively, Ruston brings a group that held Zachary standout rusher Cameron Stewart to just 8 yards on 5 carries.

Defensive tackle Christian Davis is a 6’3, 290-pound anchor in the middle of the defensive line. Ahmad Breaux is the other leader of the defensive front.

“They play with high energy – as a total defense, they really do,” Scott said. “(Davis and Breaux) are big and fast. They get off the ball and they make plays for their team.”


About Ryan Arena 2770 Articles
Sports Editor

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.