They say if you’re going to go down, go down swinging — and nobody could ever accuse the Destrehan Wildcats of not doing just that in its Class 5A semifinal game against defending state champion Zachary.
But while the Wildcats continued to pick themselves up after knockout punch after knockout punch, the Broncos eventually brought Destrehan’s season to an end in what was almost assuredly one of the wildest high-stakes football games ever seen in Louisiana, taking a 67-57 victory at Wildcat Stadium.
Zachary rushed for over 400 yards and scored whopping 10 total touchdowns led by R.J. Allen’s 265 yards and four touchdowns and Keilon Brown’s 315 total yards and four touchdowns (rushing and passing). Brown rushed for 150 yards.
But just as key was Chandler Whitfield, who finished with over 100 yards receiving, scored on an 80-yard end around and racked up nearly 200 yards on kick returns.
Zachary (12-2) advances to next week’s 5A championship game to take on No. 1 seed West Monroe.
Destrehan (12-2) had to play the second half without its star player, five-star recruit and LSU commitment John Emery. The running back suffered a lower leg injury in the first half that forced him from the game at halftime. Emery rushed for nearly 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in his half of action.
“It was crazy … We knew it would take a lot to stop those guys,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said. “They have a tremendous offense. We didn’t expect this much (offensively), but they answered the bell, we answered the bell. We went back and forth and just came up a little short.”
It was a rainy night — particularly in the second half, when the hardest of it fell — but it certainly didn’t stop either team from making big plays on either side of the ball. Zachary pulled ahead 54-36 in the second half, but Destrehan fought back thanks to some big defensive plays to force turnovers and touchdown passes by J.R. Blood to Carson Rieder and Koby Hollins. A Champ Craven fumble recovery with 3:54 left and the Wildcats trailing 60-50 gave Destrehan a chance to cut the Zachary lead to 3.
But the Broncos defense held firm, forcing Destrehan into a fourth and 15 from midfield. Blood’s final pass of the drive sailed incomplete and Zachary took over with just under two minutes left—enough time for each team to tack on a touchdown, fittingly on such a wild night of action.
“There was no stopping for our kids,” Robicheaux said. “They kept pushing on. We needed kids to step up after John went out and guys did that. We made a ballgame out of it.”
Blood finished the night — and his DHS career— by passing for 330 yards and three touchdowns in less than ideal conditions.
A Zachary touchdown just before halftime gave the Broncos a 33-30 lead, but Destrehan made the first big splash — somewhat literally — of the second half when the Wildcats forced and recovered a fumble leading to a Kyle Edwards touchdown run to make it 36-33 in Destrehan’s favor.
Zachary faked a punt on its next drive and Sean Burrell ran for a 35-yard score to give the Broncos a 40-36 lead.
James Weatherspoon made the next big play for the Broncos, stripping a Destrehan receiver and returning it for a touchdown to put ZHS ahead 47-36.
Zachary took a three- score lead on Chandler Whitfield’s 81-yard end around for a touchdown, making it 54-36.
Whitfield also came up big at the end of the first half, his long kickoff return setting up a Zachary touchdown that denied DHS the chance to go into halftime with the lead.
“Every time we got a little momentum, he seemed to answer,” Robicheaux said. “The worst thing I did was decide to kick to him at the end of the first half. He nearly brought it back all the way.”
Robicheaux said the loss stung, but that this Destrehan team was a special one he truly loved working with.
“You hear it all the time, but this group was special,” Robicheaux said. “They’re a great group of kids. You hate to see it end like tonight, with how hard they worked, but it was a fun ride.”