It took overtime and help from Destrehan but East St. John earned a share of the District 7-5A championship with a 21-14 win over visiting Thibodaux on Friday night at Joe Keller Stadium in Reserve.
“It’s feels excellent,” second-year East St. John coach Brandon Brown said of the co-championship. “I am extremely proud of our guys and our coaching staff for continuing to fight. We had every reason in the world to just kind of give up with all the adversity we started the year with. We were extremely resilient.
“In the short period of time that we’ve been here together as a staff and a team, to be co-district champs in a very, very tough district is amazing.”
East St. John’s win, coupled with Hahnville’s 23-21 loss to Destrehan, allowed ESJ to share the district title with 5-1 records. East St. John’s only district loss was a 14-0 defeat to Hahnville in Week 5.
The district co-championship was tempered somewhat by the fact the Wildcats had to forfeit two non-district games in which East St. John used an academically ineligible player.
The forfeited games included games against West Jefferson and Sophie B. Wright. ESJ had defeated West Jefferson 47-7 in Week 1 and Wright 56-9 in Week 3.
East St. John will still qualify for the Class 5A playoffs but the Wildcats had entered Friday’s game with the No. 13 power rating. The forfeits will cost ESJ an opening-round home game.
On third-and-goal, Calvin Gardner scored on a 4-yard run to give East St. John a 21-14 lead.
“He’s been our workhorse all year besides a couple of games he missed with injuries. Once we got into overtime, we were going to ride him,” Brown said of Gardner, who topped 200 yards rushing in the game.
Thibodaux faced fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line when Tigers quarterback Luke Alleman was stopped a yard short of the goal line on a tackle by ESJ linebacker Devontay Morgan.
“We got pressure on the quarterback and the coverage was good. He (Alleman) kind of scrambled for it and our middle linebacker made a great, great tackle to stop him at the 1-yard line,” said Brown.
Thibodaux had a chance to win the game on the final play of regulation but a 33-yard field goal attempt by Peyton Domangue was blocked by the Wildcats.
East St. John did all of the scoring in the first half to lead 14-0 at halftime.
Both scores came in the second quarter on touchdown pass from quarterback Sean Shelby to receivers Alonzo Porter and Dontae Fleming.
Unable to move the ball on offense, Thibodaux turned to its special teams and defense to get back in the game in the second half.
East St. John was forced to punt from deep in its own territory. Thibodaux’s Mark Lam blocked the punt, with Hunter Adams recovering in the end zone to make the score 14-7.
Later, Thibodaux defensive back Tyren Young returned an interception for a touchdown but the score was called back because of a penalty against the Tigers.
The interception gave Thibodaux the ball at the 42-yard line.
Four plays later, Allen hit Kyren Lacy with a pass, with the Thibodaux receiver losing control of the ball at the ESJ 5-yard line after being hit. The ball rolled into the end zone, with Ian Steele recovering for the Tigers to tie the game.
Although the forfeits will cost East St. John a home game to open the playoffs, the Wildcats appear comfortably in the 32-team field. ESJ was No. 23 in the unofficial power rankings coming off the Thibodaux win.
“We are just excited to have a chance to play. Ever since district started, our goal was to be district champs. After we lost that one to Hahnville, we told our guys we had to make a run. We did a good job of that and now it’s time to start our second season,” said Brown.