Destrehan defensive coordinator Tim Taffi perhaps summed up this Friday night’s quarterfinal matchup best.
“Destrehan and Zachary, two big programs going against one another – if you’re not excited about this, you don’t have a pulse,” Taffi said.
No. 3 Destrehan (11-0) and No. 6 Zachary (10-1) represent about as marquee of a matchup as you’ll find in a prep quarterfinal round matchup. Destrehan, the defending Division I non-select state champion and a team that has reached at least the semifinal round for five straight seasons – and in 8 of the past 10 seasons – and a Zachary program that has captured four state crowns since 2015.
Zachary’s one loss this season came at the hands of Catholic-Baton Rouge in Week 10 of the regular season. 35-28. It’s a loss squarely in the rearview mirror, given how the Broncos have played through two weeks of the postseason – defeating Barbe 51-14 and Salmen 49-28 in the last two rounds, respectively.
Wildcat Stadium might just be the place to be this Friday, given the spotlight of the matchup. It will cap what’s been an extremely eventful week for Destrehan, which defeated Belle Chasse 31-10 last Friday night to advance.
That day began at Destrehan with the news that head coach Marcus Scott would not be with the team for the game – the news was quite positive, though. Last week, Scott got the call he’d been waiting a very long time for. The coach has been in need of a kidney transplant, and he was told a match was found. He went into the operating room Friday, and it was an emotional day at Destrehan.
The team went out and no doubt made their coach proud. After the win, Taffi said Scott spoke to the team early in the season about the situation.
“We knew this was coming … he let the kids know what could happen way early in the year. We had a system in place set up for this, so it wasn’t a shock. I think the kids understood,” Taffi said.
“(Scott is) the biggest part of this program … he’s trained our team for the seniors to lead,” said sophomore quarterback Fields, who helped lead DHS to the win in his first playoff start. “Everybody plays their part. I feel like he taught us so well that we were OK today.”
“We were playing for Coach Scott today,” said Thomas just after the victory. “We got the job done. I know he’s gonna be happy when he hears the news.”
Zachary, as one would expect, presents stout challenges on both sides of the ball.
Destrehan offensive coordinator Greg Boyne said Zachary brings the same brand of defense prep football observers have come to expect over the years – very fast, very disciplined and very well coached.
“They’re not overly huge, but they’re very technically sound,” Boyne said. “Their line reminds me of ours. They get off the ball, they get good push into the backfield and they’re very gap sound – their linemen fill the gaps and the linebackers make plays.
“Beyond that, they can fly. They’ve got one of the better track programs in the state traditionally, and a lot of those kids if not most of them are on the football team. They’re definitely fast, sound and well-coached. I think we are too, and that’s what makes this a good matchup.”
Many of the Wildcats’ players experienced their first playoff action a week ago, including sophomore quarterback Jackson Fields. Fields completed 14 of 20 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
For Fields and his teammates who made their initial playoff starts, getting that experience prior to this matchup with Zachary was vital, said Boyne.
So was getting running back Shane Lee back. Lee rushed for 136 yards and a score in his return to the lineup after a two weeks sidelined by injury. Shane Ward also rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown – the two combined for 30 carries and 238 yards on the night.
“Run the ball, protect the ball and eliminate penalties … if we can do that as an offense, we have a chance to win the game,” Boyne said. “Our defense has done the job no matter who we’ve played. Run the ball, stop the run and protect the ball – those are things we hang our hat on.”
Taffi said that defensively, the biggest challenge is dealing with the size and physicality of the Zachary line. He said when Zachary gets into its biggest matchups, the Broncos make no secret as to what they like to do.
“They’re big and they’re physical,” Taffi said. “They run the ball a lot – they want to run it in the games against the better teams they’ve played. It’s been their trademark.”
The player carrying the workload primarily will be Kameron Thomas, a running back who had 149 yards on the ground in last week’s victory over Salmen.
“He’s very good. He’s fast, he makes good cuts and he does a good job reading his blocks,” Taffi said.
But the challenge is multifaceted, Taffi said, as there’s nothing one-dimensional about the Broncos.
“You certainly want to stop the run, but you can’t sleep on their passing game with their talented group of wide receivers,” Taffi said.
One might not need a roster at all to identify the most dynamic of those receivers. Trey’dez Green stands at 6’8, weighs 230 pounds and represents a problem for any defense.
“They like to get it to him, obviously,” Taffi said. “It’s a big wide receivers corps overall. And when you’re 6’8, you can go up and get it.
“We’ve got to stop them from making big plays. You can’t stop everything – they’re going to make plays, but you have to limit what they do. Get some stops, get off the field, give the ball to our offense for as many opportunities as possible.”
The two programs matched up in the semifinal round of 2018. That game was at Wildcat Stadium – and that game was one of the wildest you could ever hope to see on a football field at any level.
Zachary emerged from that game a 67-57 winner on a rainy night full of big – and often unconventional – plays.
“It was nuts. Absolutely nuts,” said Boyne with a laugh. “And you look at the score, 67 was not on the defense – you had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a fake punt for a touchdown, a defensive back stole the ball from our receiver for a touchdown. That season, 30 was a lot of pass attempts for us, and J.R. Blood went 36-for-49 that night. That was an amazing performance on his part.
“I spoke to (Zachary head coach David Brewerton) to set up the logistics and he goes, ‘I’ve gotta ask … we cannot do 67-57 again.’ Nope, I don’t think any of us can.”
This week, of course, marked the continuation of what’s become almost an annual tradition at Destrehan – Thanksgiving morning practice, where the team enjoys donuts together as a quarterfinal week treat.
“It’s a great tradition and it’s awesome to be able to have that. We certainly don’t take it for granted,” Taffi said. “It’s something our kids have earned the past several years, and we get to enjoy it again this year.”