Even after Destrehan’s comeback performance to defeat East St. John in last week’s quarterfinal matchup, it was a quiet bus ride back from Reserve for the Wildcats.
According to head coach Marcus Scott, his players understood the 21-20 victory came on a night the team did not play its best, and when the team reconvened for film study on Sunday, the group was locked in and very focused.
“They knew we didn’t play very well, and we got away with one,” Scott said.
For surviving the spirited effort of its district rival, however, Destrehan now has the opportunity to play on its home field with a return to the Superdome on the line as the Wildcats will host Westgate in the Division I non-select state semifinals.
This has been a DHS team with a singular goal of winning a state championship all season long, but last week’s win already further propels the program into some rarified air.
Destrehan, the third seed in Division I non-select, will be making an appearance in its eighth semifinal game over the past 10 years, a level of consistent excellence that’s been matched by very, very few over the years. This is also Destrehan’s fifth straight semifinal appearance. For Scott, it makes this 3-for-3 in his trio of seasons as the team’s head coach and four semifinals in his past five seasons as a head coach, with his Ehret Patriots making a run to the semis in 2018. A victory on Friday would mark his first time guiding his team to the state championship game.
“Hopefully, this time’s the charm,” Scott said.
A tough opponent awaits, and one riding high off an upset win in the quarterfinal round. No. 10 seeded Westgate (10-3) bounced No. 2 seeded Neville out of the postseason, 21-10, to advance. That follows a 28-7 win over Slidell and a 35-14 victory over Belle Chasse over the past two rounds.
It can be argued, however, that “upset” may not be as applicable as many past 10 over 2 games – Westgate battled key injuries during the season and midway through the regular season was ranked No. 1 in the LSWA Class 4A poll.
There’s also the matter that Westgate is a reigning state champion. The Tigers conquered Class 4A last season and are hoping for a repeat performance in Division I non-select. This is not exactly the same roster as last season’s champion, as it graduated 23 seniors from that squad, including numerous starters – but it seems clear Westgate has reloaded, not rebuilt.
This is also a team that’s been tested many times, with a schedule adorned with several familiar power programs, Lafayette Christian and St. Thomas More among a tough slate of opponents. Both of those schools are still standing in the postseason.
“They’re well-coached, big and fast,” Scott said. “Their skill guys are very good. Both lines are big and strong and on defense they are very active at linebacker … they have a lot of athletes and they can do a lot of different things. They’ve got several Division I guys, good players, good prospects. We have a challenge before us.”
Quarterback Jaboree Antoine leads the Tigers’ offense, and the talented sophomore is hard to stop. He leads an offense that has scored 30 or more in all but two regular season games and has reached the 77-point plateau once. Antoine also plays in the secondary on the defensive side of the ball – he threw three touchdowns and intercepted a pass in WHS’ second round game against Slidell.
“He makes it all happen,” Scott said. “He does a very good job running their offense.”
Antoine missed time during the season, prompting Westgate to shift its offensive attack to a ball-control oriented plan. When Antoine returned, the team went back to its spread attack – making this a versatile unit capable of winning a few different ways.
His weapons are strong. Amazz Eugene (RB/WR), Dedrick Latulas (RB/WR) and Brailon Raymond (WR) and Zaid Landry (WR) are among the most dangerous threats.
“Their skill guys are as good as anyone we’ve played, if not better,” Scott said.
Destrehan does not often face a team that can match its size and strength up front. Westgate’s offensive line is mammoth, however, with each starter ranging from 250 to 330 lbs.
Defensively, “huge and athletic” were how Scott described an immensely talented defensive front for Westgate. This is a team that doesn’t have to dial up much extra pressure, as the front four can generate a very stout pass rush on its own. The middle of the line is where you’ll find Kwante Collette and Demyrion Johnson, 280 and 270 lbs., respectively, forming a wall against the run.
“They pretty much take on their gaps and let the linebackers make plays,” said Scott.
In the secondary, Destrehan will have to be very wary of Derek Williams, who’s been offered by Tennessee. He brings a presence at 6’3 and 215 lbs. Antoine is another stellar defensive back who will be a very sought after recruit.
“He’s going to have his choice of where to go,” Scott said.
“We’re going to have to match their intensity. They fly around and they have fun. We’ve got to match that energy.”
Destrehan got banged up in its thriller against ESJ, with several players having to gut it out. Daniel Blood, one of the state’s premier punt returners, was forced from that role last week, though he remained in at receiver. Shane Lee entered the game at less than 100 percent at running back. Brandon Freeman, meanwhile, was sidelined for the remainder of the season after suffering an injury in round two.
Scott said while his team had to find a way to last through it in Reserve, this week “I think we’ll be ready to go.”
PROVIDING A SPARK – Given the situation at running back, Destrehan turned to one of its star defensive players to offer a lift offensively as safety Anthony Robinson played two ways, seeing extensive action at running back for the first time. He helped change the game as he and Lee began to carve out big runs to the outside of the East St. John defense in a fourth quarter that saw DHS score twice.
While it was his first action at running back, it was hardly his first time on the offensive side. He started as a wide receiver his freshman season, and the junior and sought-after recruit has seen snaps at that position this year as well.
“Shane wasn’t 100 percent, so we had Anthony as a backup plan,” Scott said. “He gave us a change of pace. We have other good backs, but he gave us a different look and kind of changed the game a little bit for us with what he was able to do.
“We probably don’t get the ball in his hands enough … we’re going to utilize him on offense from here on out.”
THE CLOSER – While Lee wasn’t 100 percent, he looked every bit himself in the fourth quarter of Friday’s win, be it on his long touchdown reception or several chunk plays in the running game.
He may still just be a junior, but Lee has already established himself as one of the most dominant backs in the state at closing a game out, with several big second half playoff performances already under his belt.
“We kept saying, we’re not losing tonight. We can’t go home. We’re not going home early,” said Lee after the win. “This year we want to go to the championship and we’re trying to win it.”