The past month of football perhaps represents a lesson: you never count out the Destrehan Wildcats.
In early October, Destrehan was a team searching for answers and in need of a win. They found one, then another and then another, earning two blowout wins over district foes and playoff qualifiers Thibodaux and Central Lafourche before landing their biggest win of the regular season, taking a 23-21 decision over archrival Hahnville last week.
“I’m real excited about the way we’re playing heading into the playoffs,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said. “Hopefully we can continue to ride this momentum from the past few weeks.”
Instead of finding themselves on the lower end of the 32 team 5A playoff bracket, Destrehan vaulted all the way to a No. 7 seed via its three win stretch and will host No. 26 Ponchatoula this week. DHS (7-3, 4-2) ended up the highest seeded team from District 7-5A, which saw six of its seven teams qualify for the postseason.
It’s been a rebirth for Ponchatoula this season. It posted a 6-4 regular season mark after slumping to 2-8 in 2018, including a winless district mark. It wasn’t the kind of season people have grown accustomed to for the program under head coach Hank Tierney, who entered the season as 10th all time in prep wins in Louisiana.
Like Destrehan, the Green Wave have won three in a row, besting Fontainebleau, St. Paul’s and Hammond. This is an explosive offensive team that’s scored 40 or more three times and topped 30 points in half of their matchups this season. The biggest reason? Quarterback T.J. Finley, who is committed to Ed Orgeron’s LSU Tigers.
“He’s the real deal at quarterback,” Robicheaux said. “He can make all the throws. He’s probably the best quarterback I’ve seen at throwing into tight windows. We’ll definitely have to get pressure on him.”
Wide receivers Amorion Walker, Damontrell Osby and Kody Finley – the latter is T.J.’s brother – all have good size, with Walker and Finley at 6-foot-3 and Osby at 6-feet. They can make plays in space and are asked to often in the Wave’s quick-hitting RPO style offense. At running back, Braydon Johnson carries the mail.
“They’ve scored a bunch of points,” Robicheaux said. “We’ll have to try and control the ball, keep the ball away from their offense and Finley on the sideline. They have a real good receiving corps for him to throw to, and they’ll also bring in their best safety to work in on offense.”
That safety, Jacoby Matthews, is another tall target – and a difficult one to navigate around on defense. Damian McCarthy leads the Wave’s defensive front. Ponchatoula’s defensive unit has improved this season, though in the team’s losses, some opposing offenses have been able to solve it (38 points allowed to Slidell, 41 to Mandeville, 45 to Brother Martin and 35 to Live Oak).
A turnaround, though, is undeniable: in 2018, Ponchatoula allowed 43 points per game for the season’s entirety, including a 72-7 loss to St. Paul’s. The teams matched up in 2019, by contrast, the Wave earning a 19-6 win.