Defending 5A champ Zachary visits Destrehan for huge showdown
There’s no secret to what sets defending Class 5A champion Zachary apart from most of its peers in the prep football landscape.
“Speed, speed, speed,” said Destrehan head coach Stephen Robicheaux, whose second-seeded Wildcats will host the sixth-seeded Broncos this Friday night in the Class 5A semifinals.
Finding a way to slow Zachary’s speedy playmakers on offense and defense is the challenge for Destrehan, and if they can do it, it’ll mark a return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the program, which last reached the state championship game in 2014.
Friday’s game marks a battle between two of the elite programs in the state. Zachary entered the postseason as a popular pick to make a repeat trip to the Superdome and has been a force, its current run of high level play highlighted by its state championship season of 2017. Destrehan, meanwhile, is set to take the field for its fourth state semifinal game in the past six seasons, and recently had a run of four consecutive seasons without a regular season loss.
The Wildcats (13-1) are winners of 10 straight games, including last week’s 31-14 quarterfinal win over No. 7 Terrebonne. Zachary (11-2) has reeled off eight in a row.
“When you look at top programs, Zachary definitely is right there. They have great coaches, great players and they win,” Robicheaux said. “But I consider us a pretty good program too … when you have programs that win, winning tends to breed winning. It should be a really good matchup.”
Zachary went on the road to defeat No. 3 seed Acadiana last week, winning 26-14 in a quarterfinal matchup. It bested Sulphur and Hahnville in rounds one and two, respectively.
Keilon Brown is the top playmaker for Zachary, a dual threat, experienced junior quarterback that led his team to the state championship a season ago. He rushed for three touchdowns in the win over Acadiana. He rushed for 106 yards on 20 carries and completed 12 of 15 passes for 153 yards.
“He can hurt you with the run and the pass … a tremendous athlete who’s one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” Robicheaux said.
But what makes Brown more dangerous is the weaponry around him. Running back R.J. Allen emerged late in the year and scored four times in the win over Hahnville.
Sophomore Christopher Hilton is a playmaker at one receiver spot, while Robicheaux had some very high praise for Brown’s favorite target, senior Chandler Whitfield.
“He’s probably the closest thing I’ve seen to Damaris Johnson in a long time,” Robicheaux said, invoking a comparison to the former Wildcats’ great and national record setter at Tulsa. “He’s a shifty kid, so tough to cover. They’ll play him in the slot and move him around. If he were two inches taller, he could go play anywhere in the country.”
The combination of those weapons and a physical offensive line present many challenges.
“They make it so tough … you have to defend the whole field,” Robicheaux said. “They isolate guys one on one. We have to limit those situations, keep them covered up … it’s what football’s all about. We’ve gotta know when to take our shots. They’ll take theirs.”
Defensively, Zachary brings both size and speed to the table. Defensive lineman Caleb Jackson “causes a lot of havoc” up front and 280 pound Dylan Frank is a tone-setter. Wes Brady and Maverick McClure are physical and cover a lot of ground, and a subplot will be if McClure is able to take the field Friday as he’s been dealing with injury. And safety Sean Burrell “can really fly,” Robicheaux said.
“They’ve got everything you need on defense … guys up front who can pressure your quarterback, physical linebackers and a secondary that can really run. You really have to be patient and take what they give you,” he said.
One big plus for the Wildcats is where the game takes place: by virtue of playing a strong schedule, this will be the third game of four playoff matchups hosted by Destrehan.
The Wildcats are hungry to return to the Dome — but Robicheaux quickly noted there isn’t too much Dome talk inside the locker room this week.
“We’re focusing on this game and what we have to do. We know what comes with the outcome, but we’re not talking a lot about it,” he said. “If we don’t stay focused on what we have to do this Friday, the Dome doesn’t matter.”