Late stops in the clutch guide Destrehan past Ruston, to 5A semifinal

Destrehan's Jai Eugene scores a go-ahead touchdown against Ruston Friday night. (Photo by Ellis Alexander)

There’s a saying in football the Destrehan defense lives by – “if there’s one blade of grass, we’ll defend it.” No matter how close an offense is to the endzone, the Wildcats concede not even an inch.  

Against a powerful Ruston running game, that belief was on full display Friday night, and Destrehan is off to the Class 5A semifinals as a result.  

With less than seven minutes left, Destrehan stopped Ruston inside the Wildcats’ 10-yard line on two separate possessions, securing a 24-10 quarterfinal victory at Wildcat Stadium in a battle that for most of the night was contested within a score.  

Last season, these two teams met at Ruston in the state quarterfinals, a matchup that saw no offensive touchdowns in a 6-0 Destrehan win. DHS linebacker Jermaine Stewart – who forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter, a fumble recovery and an interception, to clinch the victory- said he and his teammates remembered, and they knew what to expect as a result.  

“It was gonna be smashmouth football,” Stewart said. “We had to be more tough, to be a dominant team … we talked about it coming in, being the hammer and not the nail. 

“We’re looking for that state title. It’s all we want.” 

Destrehan, the No. 4 seed in 5A, is one win away from the Superdome. That win must come at top-seeded Zachary next Friday night, which advanced to next week’s semifinal after outlasting West Monroe in a thrilling shootout, 37-34.

2021 marks the seventh time in nine seasons Destrehan has reached the state semifinal round, and the fourth consecutive season.

Destrehan head coach Marcus Scott said you never quite know who will make the critical play at a given time on a Wildcats team full of playmakers, but everyone on his sideline believes that play is coming.  

“These kids believe that we will defend every inch of the field until a team scores. They will not stop until the other team is in,” Scott said. “So, it doesn’t matter whether they’re on the 5-yard line or the one-inch line, they’re playing the exact same way. They’re fighting. And that’s a tribute to our staff and to these kids.  

“They all have faith in each other, and we have faith that someone is going to make a play to help us win. They feed off of that and it’s contagious.” 

Destrehan’s Patrick LeBranch scored on a 2-yard run with 8:05 left to play – a touchdown set up by his 41-yard run a few plays prior – to give his team a 24-10 lead. But Ruston (8-3) had plenty of fight left. 

On Ruston’s first play of its ensuing possession, Jaden Osborne threw deep down the sideline for Dawson Willis, who hauled in the reception and went down at the Destrehan 12. It seemed like the worst-case scenario for Destrehan (9-0), a potential quick score one of the few remaining scenarios for Ruston to get back into the game, given the time remaining.  

But the Wildcats’ defense stiffened up and on a 4th and 3 run by Ruston’s Dyson Fields, the Wildcats made the stop just inches short of the line to gain, forcing Fields out of bounds at the 3-yard-line with 5:58 remaining. 

“We knew this was going to be a physical game,” said Destrehan defensive end Steven Walker. “We’re already a physical team, so we did the best we could to turn it up even more … we always stay focused. The coaching staff teaches us to be calm and collected and be ready for anything that might come our way.” 

Destrehan took over and ran a couple of minutes off the clock before punting back to Ruston. Once again, however, the Bearcats showed there was more to their offense than the triple option, Osborne again finding Willis deep again to set up another redzone situation.  

And once again, the Wildcats turned back the challenge. Jermaine Stewart stripped the ball and recovered the fumble to give his team possession again with 3:22 left to play – and this time, it proved the final blow.  

“All I saw was Tut (Kolaj Cobbins) had made the tackle, and I saw the ball, so I just grabbed it,” Stewart said. “I kept thinking, ‘score, score’ but I couldn’t quite bring it in, so I just fell down on it.” 

Destrehan led 10-3 at halftime. Ruston tied the game in the third quarter when Fields capped a long drive by punching in a 2-yard touchdown.  

The Wildcats answered on a drive sparked by a 7-yard Brandon Freeman run, who raced off right tackle, found the sideline cut off and reversed field to convert a first down. It seemed to energize the offense, as Jai Eugene followed up with a deep pass to Daniel Blood, who leapt in the air and won the ball on a contested catch to set Destrehan up deep in Bearcat territory. Eugene pulled the ball down and evaded defenders to score on an 11-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 17-10. 

Shane Lee scored the first half’s lone touchdown on an 8-yard run. He finished the night with over 100 yards on the ground for Destrehan.

Next week will mark the second semifinal clash between Destrehan and Zachary within the past four years. DHS will be looking to avenge a loss to the latter in that game, a 67-57 ZHS win memorably played on a rainy night at Wildcat Stadium.

 

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