Unbeaten rivals collide with district championship in the balance

Shane Lee of Destrehan

There are 16 wins and 0 losses between Destrehan and East St. John, district and River Parish rivals that will lock up at Joe Keller Memorial Stadium in Reserve Friday night.

There will be a 17th win after this one. There will also be a 1 in the loss column. Someone’s going from undefeated to once-defeated after this week, and the other will clinch at least a share of the District 7-5A championship.

Last season, East St. John went 3-4 overall and 3-3 in District 7-5A. The Wildcats began last season behind the eight ball, only receiving much of their proper gameday equipment on game day of their second week of the season.

But the Wildcats went 5-1 in the regular season two years ago and 6-1 the year before under head coach Brandon Brown. This season’s East St. John squad more closely resembles those two teams in terms of results thus far as ESJ enters this week undefeated, earning wins over St. James, Lanier (Mississippi), Thibodaux, Landry, Hahnville, Central Lafourche, Terrebonne and H.L. Bourgeois. Its most dominating performance of the season came in its district opener, earning a 57-26 win at Thibodaux after taking a 26-20 lead into the half and outscoring THS after halftime.

East St. John (8-0, 5-0) returned 15 starters from its squad a year ago. Their performance thus far indicates that falling short of the playoffs did not sit well with any of them.

Eight of those 15 starters come from the defensive side, where Brown has developed a reputation for his stoppers as a hard-hitting, stingy group from year to year. The team’s talented front includes end Elijah Frank, a strong pass-rushing force. Dwayne Brown plays all over the field as a safety, corner and linebacker depending on the play.

“(Frank) started last year and made a lot of plays … they’re fast, physical and very active up front,” Destrehan head coach Marcus Scott said. “They fly to the ball really well.”

On offense, quarterback Yashua Mitchell is having a tremendous season. Mitchell took over at quarterback for the Wildcats at midseason a year ago, but was injured in Week 9. Since his return, he has fulfilled the high expectations the program has had for him.

“He can make plays down the field and outside the pocket,” Scott said. “He can also make plays inside the pocket – he’s a dual threat player and that gives them an extra weapon. We have to respect his ability to take off.

“He’s more dangerous because East St. John has a group of talented receivers. It’s not just one or two – they have a set of pass catchers, three or four kids who can make plays in the passing game, and that includes the tight end. That’s something not a lot of teams have. They definitely present some unique challenges for us.”

Returning All-District running back Cortez Fisher has been a cornerstone of this offense for awhile now, and this season he is complimented by the hard-running George Martin. Tight end Devin Davis is a big target and weapon down the seam. D’hki Joseph can really run at wide receiver, as can Koyal Gray, who can score from anywhere on the field – in Week 5 at Hahnville, Gray scored touchdowns of 41 and 95 yards off Mitchell passes.

Scott said he and his Wildcats (8-0, 4-0) are quite familiar with Fisher, who has started since his sophomore season and is now a senior.

“He’s been making plays for a long time at East St. John,” said Scott. “To be honest, I’m kind of glad he’s a senior.”

The offensive line is good and experienced.

“They’re well-coached, very good, and come off the ball well,” Scott said. “With their skill players, you really have to give them respect when it comes to both run and pass. They have a balanced attack.”


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