NEW ORLEANS – No one expected the Class 5A state championship to end up as an 8-3 affair.
Although Destrehan came out on the short end of the score in Saturday night’s encounter against unbeaten Acadiana, it may have been appropriate somehow for the Wildcats to be involved in such an unexpected outcome.
After being 4-3 at one point during the season, not many expected Destrehan to be playing for a state title but the Wildcats defied the odds by winning seven straight games to reach the Class 5A title game.
“It was a really gutsy performance,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said of his team’s effort against Acadiana. “I thought our kids played extremely hard. I’m just so proud of a group of kids that have been through so much adversity this year and came out the back end and gave us a chance to win a state championship.
“They played extremely hard. They didn’t give up. We made two big turnovers in the red zone and had a goal-line stand. I’ve never been so proud of a group of kids. I thought we had to make a few plays early. We missed a few balls here and there but our kids fought.”
The game featured teams with high-powered offenses.
Acadiana averaged 49.5 points per game during the regular season and 45.5 through four games in the playoffs entering Saturday’s finale.
Destrehan, meanwhile, averaged 33.8 points though the regular season and 28 in the playoffs.
Acadiana’s vaunted veer offense churned out massive ground yards throughout the season, yet the Rams’ only touchdown in the state championship game came via a long pass.
The Rams did manage to roll up 311 yards rushing while hogging the ball for 30:31. But a combination of untimely turnovers for Acadiana and a Destrehan defense that would not yield the end zone, held the Rams to the one non-rushing touchdown.
Destrehan got its lone score on a field goal to close the first half.
Acadiana’s defense was even more staunch. The Rams held Destrehan to 140 yards of total offense, including only 66 rushing on 21 attempts and 74 yards passing.
The Rams were looking to extend a slim 6-3 lead at the start of the second half. Acadiana ate up 5:50 of the clock but had nothing to show for it when on third-and-goal from the Destrehan 4-yard line, Wildcat defender Tyler Morton penetrated the Acadiana backfield and got his hands on the ball as Rams quarterback Keontae Williams attempted to pitch to Dillan Monette.
That resulted in a fumble which was recovered by Destrehan’s Steven Walker at the 5-yard line.
The Wildcats (11-4) got out of the shadow of their end zone before having to punt from their own 34 for what proved to be Destrehan’s only possession of the third quarter. A shanked punt gave Acadiana the ball at the Rams’ 42.
“We had the chance coming out the half to get the field goal. We always talk about the first three minutes of the second half are the most important part of the game and our kids came out and played hard. They did a good job and got a big turnover and kind of set the tone for the rest of the game,” said Robicheaux.
Acadiana went on another time-consuming drive that stretched into the middle of the fourth quarter.
On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Monette got the call for the touchdown. A review after the play overturned the decision, wiping out the touchdown and giving the ball to Destrehan, still trailing by only three points. Monette finished with 153 yards rushing on 21 carries.
Kyle Edwards got the call for no gain. The Rams challenged the call that Edwards was actually stopped in the end zone for a safety. Edwards, the Alabama Crimson Tide commitment, was held to 47 yards rushing on 13 carries.
“The whole purpose of me not getting the ball was I was used as a distraction so other players could get the ball so I could take those guys out and they could get one-on-one on people. I don’t mind if I don’t get the ball. I don’t care about stats. I just want to help my team win any way possible,” said Edwards.
The call was allowed to stand but it was only a momentary reprieve for the Wildcats.
On the next play, Edwards was clearly stopped in the end zone for a safety. Edwards’ helmet was ripped off of his head on the play. Robicheaux argued for facemask penalty but none was called. The result extended Acadiana’s lead to 8-3 with 6:33 left in the game.
“You can’t challenge that. What I was trying to explain is that someone has got to see that. They pulled the facemask off. Worst-case scenario, it’s a safety, but it’s still post possession and it should be 15 yards on the kickoff. That’s what I was trying get across,” Robicheaux explained.
Destrehan’s defense forced a punt following the ensuing free kick and got the ball back at its own 4-yard line. The Wildcats need to travel 94 yards after the punt if Destrehan was going to claim the state championship.
Acadiana’s defense helped the Wildcats’ cause. A pass interference call and a personal foul at the conclusion of the play netted Destrehan 30 yards. On the very next play, another personal foul call against the Rams gave the Wildcats a first down at the Acadiana 48 with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
A tackle for loss, an incomplete pass, and a sack of Destrehan quarterback Damaruis Jackson by Acadiana’s Cameron George left the Wildcats with fourth-and-20 from its own 49.
Destrehan receiver Calvin Bullock was unable to haul in a pass from Jackson when hit by Acadiana’s Kendrick Richard, giving the ball to the Rams on downs.
Acadiana ran out the remaining 1:57 of the game to claim the state championship.
The teams traded fumbles to open the game with the result giving Destrehan possession at the Wildcats’ 7-yard line.
Destrehan came out throwing and was on the move on the game’s opening possession until a fumble by Wildcats receiver Quincy Brown after a reception was recovered by Acadiana’s Jeremiah Brown at the Rams’ 47.
“We thought we had to kind and loosen them up a little bit,” Robicheaux said of throwing the ball early in the game. We thought that whenever we had a shot to Quincy, we had to take it. We did that. We got Calvin open a little bit, also, and we didn’t quite make the play.
“We thought their front seven was as good as anybody we faced. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re physical. We thought we had to kind of loosen them up. We had to put some plays together and didn’t quite get it done. Penalties hurt us and that kind of thing.”
Acadiana reached the Destrehan 8-yard line before Wildcats linebacker Dylan Gibbs forced a fumble that was recovered by Noah Taliancich at the Destrehan 7-yard line.
“We prepared all week for this,” said Gibbs. “Coach (Malter) Scobel (Destrehan’s defensive coordinator) had us prepared and ready to do whatever we needed to do. We knew, based on formations, what they were going to do and what they would run out of it. It was just a matter of everyone doing their job.”
“I think their offense was great. They had a lot of speedsters. I feel like physicality-wise, we took it to them. That was the game plan,” Taliancich said.
The Rams forced a Destrehan punt and the aid of a long roll caused Acadiana to take possession at its own 39.
Three plays into the drive, Williams dropped back to pass and found at wide-open Dillan Monette at the 20. Monette raced the remaining distance for a 56-yard touchdown. Gibbs blocked the extra point, leaving the Rams with a 6-0 lead with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.
It was the Rams’ only pass completion in three attempts.
“We gave up eight points and one (touchdown) was a bomb, who would have thought it?” Robicheaux said.
Clinging to a six-point advantage, the Rams appeared on the way to extending their lead. Acadiana marched from its own 1-yard yard line before Monette to a pitch to his right and broke left for an apparent 57-yard touchdown.
A penalty on the play wiped out the score, giving the Rams a first down at the Destrehan 43.
Three plays later, Morton intercepted a Williams pass at the 15 to end the threat.
Destrehan’s Razan Keller turned a screen pass from Jackson into a big gainer for the Wildcats. Jackson finished 10 of 17 for 74 yards passing.
On what appeared to be the final play of the first half, Destrehan’s Will Bryant was short on a 48-yard field goal.
As the players were leaving field, they were brought back when Acadiana was penalized for illegal participation but because the infraction call came after the snap, that made it a 15-yard penalty.
Destrehan was granted an untimed down and Bryant connected on a 33-yard field goal to make the score 6-3 at halftime.
The Wildcats may not have added a fifth state championship in school history, but will take away a brotherhood that if found rarely in any other aspects of life. That was especially true of a 2019 Destrehan team that overcome several obstacles on its way to the Superdome.
“A big lesson in life is learned. It’s not all the time all about football. These kids learned about life this year and they can take that with them,” said Robicheaux.
“We just didn’t get it done but I’m just proud of where this team came from. A 4-3 start, everybody counting us out, the No 1 team in the state all year (in facing Acadiana), 8-3 (final score), nobody expected that. That’s what I’m proud of. Everybody is going to remember that,” Taliancich said.