Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said he was hoping his Wildcats would continue their level of the play of the previous few games heading into the regular-season finale last week against Hahnville.
You can consider it mission accomplished as the Wildcats defeated the Tigers 23-21 to finish the regular season 7-3
“I’m really excited with the way we have been playing,” Robicheaux said. “We kind of got some guys healthy and it’s helped us tremendously. Hat’s off to our guys that lost three out of four and kind of stuck with it. I think our kids realize we have a chance to be a pretty good team. Lately, we’ve shown that.”
The reward for the Wildcats’ strong play down the stretch of the regular season was a jump up to the No. 7 seed in the Class 5A playoffs. That didn’t seem likely when the team was in the midst of losing three out of four games at midseason.
“We looked at going into the last week at 14 and thinking maybe we can get a home playoff game, (but) people in front of you lose and you win a big game, and all a sudden, you jump up to No. 7. Our kids are excited about it,” said Robicheaux.
It’s the first time back for Tierney in the playoffs after a two-year absence, but he is no stranger to deep playoff runs and winning a state title.
Tierney’s Shaw team reached the Class 4A state championship game in 1987 and won the title in 1988. His Eagles teams reached the Class 5A state championship game in 1997 and 2000
He led West Jefferson to the playoff each season in his six seasons as coach of the Buccaneers.
Now, he’s back in the playoffs again.
“He’s a legend. He’s been there before. He’s taken a lot of teams to the promised land and his record speaks for itself. He’s done a tremendous job everywhere he’s been,” Robicheaux said of his Ponchatoula counterpart.
A big reason the 6-4 Green Wave are in the playoffs is because of T.J. Finley. The senior quarterback is a LSU commitment.
“He gets the ball out so quick and can throw the ball anywhere he wants and in tight windows. We will really have to do a good job against him. Hopefully, we can get some pressure on him and make him move around a bit. If you just let him sit back there and pat the ball, he’s going to tear you apart,” said Robicheaux.
The Wildcats, Robicheaux said, will try to contain Finley by using a blueprint similar to the one the team had in taking on Thibodaux and Hahnville the last two weeks.
“Last week we had a lot of success to get to Hahnville’s quarterback, Drew Naquin, and we hurt them a little bit. We did the same thing against Thibodaux. If we continue to do that and get some pressure on (Finley) and try to get to him with the least amount of people that you can, that way you can cover because he gets the ball off real quick. We have to make sure we can cover the short routes and get pressure on him. I think that will be the key,” the Destrehan coach said.
The Green Wave run a spread offense, but with Finley at the helm, are looking to throw the football more than run it.
“They are three-by-one and two-by-two, kind of like we do with the zone read and that kind of stuff. They run a lot more counter than we do. They don’t run the ball as much,” Robicheaux said.
Other than Finley and a few others, Ponchatoula is a sophomore-led team.
Finley has a whole bunch of receivers to throw to.
“I really like Damontrell Osby. He’s the kind the guy they want to get the ball to,” Robicheaux said of the 6-foot sophomore.
Other targets include Mingo Gutierrez and Amorion Walker.
When the team needs another receiver, Jacoby Mathews moves over from his safety position.
Also, there’s always Kody Finley, T.J.’s younger brother.
When not throwing the football, it is generally being handed off to Braydon Johnson.
“He’s a stocky kid. He runs low to the ground. He’s had some success running the counter,” Robicheaux said of Johnson.
They Green Wave will bring in Tyrese Primus when Ponchatoula wants to go to a two-back set.
Ponchatoula’s youth is demonstrated along its defensive line, which includes Tyler Bailey, a 6-foot-2, 260-pound freshmen.
Other defensive linemen include Lance Hilliard, Wykee Bennett and Damian McCarthy.
Gabriel Timmerick is the middle linebacker and only senior of a corps that includes Albert McCarty and Darrien Brider.
Robicheaux said he has been impressed by the Ponchatoula secondary.
“The cornerbacks are Elijah Winters and Geralcoe Toney, but I think the guys that make them go are Jacoby Mathews and Javier Dawson, their safeties. Mathews is a real good football players. He comes downhill and he will strike you and Dawson plays down on the hash (mark) and does a good job, also,” the Destrehan coach said.
After several years of playing rival Hahnville to open district play, the Wildcats took on their rival in Week 10.
“I hated it,” Robicheaux said. “I guess there is just no place to play it. We talked about not wanting to play it early, but boy, that Week 10 was tough. It’s such an emotional game and such a physical game. I think we came out of it pretty unscathed. There was a lot of hard hitting and a lot of good football going on.”
That means the Wildcats have to refocus with the start of the playoffs.
“The thing is you have to get up for Hahnville. It’s a big, emotional game,” Robicheaux said. “Now, we have to play another game. It will be our (the coaching staff’s) job make sure they stay focused and do the things they have to do to be successful this week.
“I think the playoffs eliminate some of that pressure because now’s the pressure that if you don’t win, you go home.”