Senior class led Destrehan out of slump, into championship game

Noah Taliancich returns a fumble recovered to start the fourth quarter of Friday night's Destrehan win over Haughton.

The phrase “it’s darkest before dawn” doesn’t always hold true. But for a tough-minded group of Destrehan players and coaches, a belief it was the case – and a commitment to making it so – has led them to the doorstep of a state championship.

For the Wildcats, the turning point to their run to the Superdome came in the wake of its Oct. 18 loss at home to East St. John, a 14-13 game that represented Destrehan’s second district loss of the season and third loss overall. It made 2019 the first time since 2012 that Destrehan had lost as many as three games in a regular season. For context, the Wildcats had lost three regular season games, total, from 2013 to 2018. In 2019, it lost three within a span of four games.

Destrehan, ranked No. 8 in Class 5A in the preseason, was dismissed as a real contender by many, the assumption taking hold that this was a down year for a powerful program.

The Wildcats, led by a tight knit, prideful group of seniors, weren’t as ready to make that concession. Following the East St. John loss, Destrehan held a players only meeting and those leading that discussion made it clear: this was not acceptable.

“It was the first time we’d done anything like that,” said Noah Taliancich, senior defensive tackle. “We lost to East St. John and we just said, look, we can’t keep doing this. This isn’t Destrehan. This isn’t us. From there, the tide changed and we flipped the script.”

That may be putting it mildly. In the wake of the ESJ loss, Destrehan had a tough test ahead of them: a trip to face Thibodaux, which was ranked in the top 10 of Class 5A and possessed a powerful offense.

What resulted was a 49-21 victory, led by Destrehan’s senior leader on offense, Kyle Edwards. The running back posted 220 yards and five touchdowns, the first of several mammoth performances in what went on to become a seven-game winning streak.

“Everyone doubted us,” Edwards said. “But Coach told us, ‘We’re good.’ He said this was a challenge I want you to take on. We’ve continued to fight that challenge, and now we’re going to the Dome.”

The senior core of this team has been a highly productive one, led by Edwards offensively and Taliancich defensively. Edwards, an Alabama commitment, has rushed for 1,812 yards and 27 touchdowns this season, adding another 195 yards and a score as a receiver – and even one as a passer, a key touchdown pass in the team’s quarterfinal win over West Monroe. Taliancich, committed to Tulane where he’ll play defensive end, racked up 10.5 tackles for loss, 40 total tackles and 5.5 sacks in his first season as a defensive tackle.

Wide receiver Quincy Brown has continued adding spectacular highlight plays to his Wildcats’ reel, hauling in 64 receptions for 859 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s also been in the mix defensively, playing at cornerback in key matchups. Finding him downfield is Damarius Jackson, whose injury at midseason coincided with the team’s slump. The first-time starting quarterback completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,638 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for five more scores. Offensive linemen Daniel Hart, William Baker, Kerwin Mitchell and Preston Madere are all seniors helping to pave the way to 2,730 yards and 41 scores on the ground this season.

Savion Travis has been a big factor on the interior of Destrehan’s line, with 35 tackles, seven for loss. Safety Tyler Morton has a nose for the ball, making  49.5 stops, 4.5 for loss and two interceptions. Linebacker Dylan Whitted leads the Wildcats with 59.5 tackles and eight sacks, adding seven sacks.

Those are leaders among a senior group that collectively embody the traits that have led this team back to the Superdome for the first time since 2014: physicality, mental toughness and a knack for making their biggest plays at the most pivotal moments.

Take the team’s second round victory against Covington: Destrehan ran the ball relentlessly to overcome a 7-0 halftime deficit, not calling a single pass in the second half.

“It’s about not losing your cool in those situations,” Edwards said. “Staying in control, not freaking out under pressure.”

How about the team’s semifinal win over Haughton, where Destrehan’s big play defense forced three turnovers in the fourth quarter to halt a successful rally?

“That’s what Coach Scobel preaches,” Taliancich said. “Get the ball out, create turnovers. When you do that, your odds get a lot better. Get it back for your offense and let them punch it in.”

 

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