Sophomore kicker Will Bryant cemented himself in Destrehan lore Friday night – and his team in the state semifinals.
Bryant drilled a clutch 32-yard field goal on the final play of the game to lift the Wildcats past West Monroe at home in the Class 5A quarterfinal round, 20-17, propelling Destrehan to the semifinal round. Destrehan, the No. 7 seed, will host No. 11 Haughton in the 5A semifinals. Haughton downed Mandeville 34-14 to advance.
“I did my job … but I’ve never been prouder of a group of guys,” Bryant said. “They were trying to hype me up but I told them, I did little, they did everything.”
The kick came as an answer to West Monroe’s own tying field goal on its own final possession of the night. That came after a high snap on a punt gave the Rebels first and goal at the Wildcats’ 7 yard line. Destrehan (10-3) held the No. 2 seeded Rebels (11-2) to two yards on three plays and forced WMHS to settle for tying things up.
Kyle Edwards and Razan Keller kept the ball moving on the ground to get Destrehan in position for Bryant’s kick on the night’s final series. Damarius Jackson also connected with Calvin Bullock for 11 yards on the drive.
West Monroe called time out to attempt to ice Bryant, but he said he expected that.
“I knew it was coming, so I wasn’t in the zone yet,” Bryant said. “I was waiting for it. I went to the sideline, got an extra practice kick in, then went and put it through the uprights next play.”
Then came the celebration – and a convoy of Wildcats to mob Bryant.
“I was expecting that too, so I braced myself for that,” Bryant said with a grin.
This was a battle waged in the trenches, both teams cranking up their respective running games and creating a battle of wills. But the ability to make a few timely plays in the passing game may have spelled the difference for Destrehan.
One stepping up in that regard was freshman wide receiver Daniel Blood, who made two key receptions for big gains, including a 46-yard reception from Jackson that set up the Wildcats’ first points of the night on a Bryant field goal, making it 6-3 in the second quarter – West Monroe took the initial lead prior to that on a touchdown run by Cayden Pierce.
Edwards pushed Destrehan ahead 10-6 on a short touchdown run with 2:27 to go before half. After Destrehan made a defensive stop keyed by a third down sack by Noah Taliancich and Jacob Johnson, the Wildcats engineered a drive kick started by another Jackson to Blood connection, this one for 22 yards.
Jackson followed up with a 10 yard completion to Quincy Brown before, with 17 seconds to go before half, the Wildcats dialed up a gutsy call: a halfback pass. Edwards took a toss from Jackson and lofted a pass downfield to an open Calvin Bullock, who hauled it in and scored to make it a 17-6 lead for DHS.
“Man, it wasn’t pretty … I thought the throw was terrible,” Edwards said with a wry smile. “But as long as it got there and we scored, that’s all that matters … we’ve been working (the play in practice) for several weeks, but never actually used it. It all happened a lot quicker than in practice. I stayed calm, released it and trusted him to go get it.”
West Monroe’s run-heavy style means the clock is virtually always running, so the Rebels came through in what was a virtual must-have situation when it converted a long drive into a 9-yard Pierce touchdown run off left tackle to make it 17-12 late in the third quarter. Pierce ran the same play on the two-point conversion to make it a three point game.
Both defenses stood tall for most of the fourth quarter. A stop of a Pierce run on fourth and one by the DHS defense gave Destrehan a chance to close the game out with a drive, but West Monroe forced its own three and out. Then disaster seemed to strike for Destrehan after a high snap on a punt attempt led to a recovery by the Rebels at the Destrehan 7.
“But you know what, our kids bowed up,” said Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux. “And look, I was tired of seeing (Pierce) run the ball. Our kids did a great job stopping him.”
Not long after that, Bryant stepped on the field and delivered.
“He came in there cool as a cucumber,” Robicheaux said.
Edwards finished the night with 26 carries for 103 yards. Keller carried five times for 33 yards. Jackson completed 13 of 19 passes for 186 yards, spreading the ball to four receivers who each had at least three receptions – Bullock (4-44-1), Blood (3-71), Edwards (3-64) and Brown (3-30). Kelvin Lea, Dylan Gibbs and Tyler Morton each had six or more total tackles, Lea making two of those for loss.
Robicheaux told his team after the game he had never been prouder of a group of players. Destrehan was written off by many after losing three out of four games during one regular season stretch. Instead, the Wildcats are headed to yet another state semifinal.
“We had a lot of doubters at 4-3,” Robicheaux said. “Our coordinators did a great job of holding it together. And (seniors) Noah, Quincy, Dylan Gibbs, Kyle … they put the team on their shoulders. And here we are going to play in the semifinals.”