It’s a cherished tradition at Destrehan, one made sweeter by the fact that it’s never promised, but earned: donuts on Thanksgiving morning, as the team prepares for a battle in the late rounds of the postseason.
The Wildcats (9-3) will enjoy that treat once again as the No. 7 seed in 5A prepares to host one of the state’s premier teams and power programs, No. 2 seeded West Monroe (11-1), in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
You might call Destrehan a reliable donut shop customer this time of year. Destrehan has reached a state final, four state semifinals and has been a state quarterfinalist in all but one year since 2013. Following his team’s very physical 17-7 victory at Covington last week, Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux’s message to his team was clear: that effort is why you belong here, and it defined what it means to be part of the Destrehan program.
“These kids fought so hard through adversity,” said Robicheaux, alluding to the team’s three loss midseason stretch within a month’s time. “They pushed through and now they’re suddenly in the quarterfinals. They’ve earned it … when it’s all said and done, Destrehan’s among the top eight teams left. We’ve been used to that. It’s what our kids expect, what our coaches expect, and it’s what our program is.
“We’ve very fortunate to still be playing, obviously, but I’m so proud of these kids. They work extremely hard. They deserve to be playing this week and eating donuts on Thanksgiving morning.”
It’s another accomplishment in a long list of them for Destrehan over the years, but one can rest assured: the same reasons the Wildcats got here are the reasons why nobody will confuse them with a team just happy to be here.
They intend to fell a giant at home on Friday – it won’t be remotely easy.
West Monroe defeated No. 15 Captain Shreve in round two to advance by a 38-21 score. It trounced Central Lafourche, a Destrehan district foe, in the opening round 47-7. Its lone loss this season came in Week 3 at the hands of an out of state foe, Longview, Texas, 17-7.
Since 2012, the Rebels have been to two state finals and three semifinal rounds.
The attack is familiar to longtime fans of prep football: a giant offensive line, powerful rushing attack and a suffocating defense that has allowed just 6.6 points per game this season.
“It’s a West Monroe football team,” Robicheaux said. “They fit the profile.”
While not an easy task, the Wildcats will have home field on its side—and some positive history to draw from between the teams. Destrehan felled West Monroe in a state semifinal, 27-22, in 2014. Go back a little further and the memory is even sweeter for DHS fans: a 14-3 victory in the Superdome as the Wildcats secured what was then their second straight state championship under Robicheaux.
This could be a similarly low scoring game, given the talent on both defensive units and the stout running attacks on each side.
The West Monroe offensive line starts with four year starter Ethan Boyer, a 6-foot 2, 330 lb. mountain of a lineman. Daniel Hawthorne and Shawn McDonald both have great size and experience as well.
“They run toward the tight end probably about 75 percent of the time. You’ve just gotta find a way to stop them, but not many teams have been able to do it,” Robicheaux said.
H-back Cayden Pierce is a huge key to everything the Rebels do. At 6-foot-1 and 210 lb., he’ll line up at fullback, halfback, tight end and quarterback and keeps the chains moving. Derome Williams doesn’t have that kind of size, but the 5-foot-7, 175 pound back is very explosive.
“Williams is a guy they go to whenever they want to run power or counter. He makes them go,” Robicheaux said. “But Cayden Price, he’s just physical, physical. He’ll pound it in there for three or four yards and they’re happy with that and keeping the chains moving.”
Robicheaux estimates the Rebels only look to pass about 25 percent of the time, but when they do they look for A.J. Fenceroy at wide receiver.
The key matchup to watch will likely be the size of the West Monroe line contrasting with the speed and quickness of the Destrehan defensive line.
“We’ve gotta get off the ball. They’re gonna have some schemes I’m sure where they try to catch us slanting … (defensive coordinator Malter Scobel) will have to be creative in changing up the calls and slanting different ways … if you just sit in base, they’re gonna block you with two and blow you off the ball, get into your linebackers. We have to move a little bit and cause some disruption on the offensive line.”
West Monroe is stout across the board defensively, boasting four shutouts on its resume during the course of the season. They’re big along the defensive line, coming out in a four man front primarily. The linebackers and defensive backs are stout, Robicheaux noting that secondary is not only a group that can run, but it’s also a very physical corps of corners and safeties.
“You look for a weakness on that team and you just don’t see one,” Robicheaux said. “We’ll definitely have our hands full Friday night. But you know what? There are 8 teams left in 5A, so if you’re not up to the challenge by this point, you won’t be moving on. All eight left are real good football teams.”