Recalling a classic win by unbeaten champs

For the next couple of columns, I’d like to turn back the clock and reminisce about a pair of the most memorable prep football games I’ve had the opportunity to cover, one of them featuring the Hahnville Tigers and one featuring the Destrehan Wildcats, which is where we begin today: we go back to October of 2007 as the eventual undefeated 5A champions hosted East St. John.

This was one of the first games I’d bring up in my early days of covering prep football and for good reason. The stakes were high and the result hung in the balance to the bitter end.

The ’07 Wildcats were incredibly talent-rich— “I say all the time, my grandma could have coached that team,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux quipped during a recent conversation about that bunch. The quarterback was Jordan Jefferson. At wide receiver, you had an LSU signee in Tim Molten, while another Division 1 recruit played alongside him in Damaris Johnson—all Johnson did was set numerous national yardage records during his time at Tulsa, and he’s currently in the NFL. Running back Jerico Nelson played his collegiate ball at Arkansas and spent NFL time with the Saints.

Think about that. Just in terms of the team’s skill positions, that’s three SEC recruits and one future NCAA record holder.

Meanwhile, East St. John never lacked for talent themselves. While not loaded like Destrehan —it’s hard to imagine any other team laying claim to be in 2007 — the Reserve school perennially churns out major recruits and stars. This team was an oddity among then-coach Larry Dauterive’s teams. The always quotable Cajun was widely known as a mad bomber who leaned on the passing game and attacked deep early and often. But the 2007 edition was run-heavy behind the talents of powerful tailback Alex Singleton, who went on to be Johnson’s teammate at Tulsa, running behind offensive line stud Patrick Lewis, a starter for the Seattle Seahawks today.

Both offenses put scores on the board in the first quarter. Singleton rumbled for a 50-yard touchdown run to push ESJ ahead 7-0, while Destrehan drove and answered with Jefferson’s own 1-yard score to tie things up. In the second quarter, Singleton and Nelson each traded scores and the teams were tied at half.

Destrehan appeared to seize control in the third quarter after Jefferson connected with Nelson and Johnson for touchdown passes. But that two touchdown lead wouldn’t last. East St. John rallied after a long touchdown pass and Singleton’s third touchdown run of the night, and with less than two minutes left in the game, the Wildcats led by three, 31-28—but ESJ drove inside the Destrehan 5.

It was at this point where a team known for its offensive stars showed its mettle defensively. ESJ had first and goal at the Destrehan 3 and was stopped twice. On third down, with 1:04 left on the clock, East St. John took to the air, and cornerback Antonio Parker made one of the signature plays of a signature Destrehan season: he jumped a pass by East St. John’s Andre Miller and intercepted, ending the threat, clinching the game and saving the undefeated season.

In retrospect, those Wildcats seemed to know just how good they were: that was one of the last close games the team would play that season.

The win over East St. John followed a 7-point win over Hahnville and a two-point win over St. Amant in successive weeks, the latter coming down to a blocked field goal that preserved the unbeaten season. Once the postseason began, wins by 25, 38, 35, 52 and 20 — that last one over perennial powerhouse Acadiana to wrap up the Class 5A state championship — showed that when the lights when on, these ‘Cats didn’t mess around. Ultimately, 30 unbeaten games passed before a loss.

That was the first truly great team I had the opportunity to cover as a prep sports writer, as the DHS title win was the first I’d witnessed on the job. And that October clash with East St. John ranks as the first great football game I had the pleasure of covering.

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