It’s not how you get there. The important thing is that you arrived.
That’s the storyline for Destrehan as the Wildcats prepared to take on top-seeded Acadiana for the Class 5A state championship slated for 7 p.m. Saturday in the Superdome on New Orleans.
In most years, Destrehan has made deep playoff runs coming off of seasons in which the Wildcats seem to lose no more than one game.
Destrehan reached the 2019 finals with a 7-3 regular season mark before becoming one of the hottest teams in the postseason.
“It still feels the same,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said of reaching the finals with a three-loss team. “The ultimate goal is to be playing in the state championship. Yeah, there is a special place in my heart for these kids because of the adversity they’ve been through and they got to this point.
“The coaches did a phenomenal job but it’s still the same. The ultimate goal every year, hopefully, is to be playing for a state championship and here we are. We get a chance to go represent Destrehan, the community and everyone else involved.”
Since late in the regular season, the Wildcats have heard over and over about sporting a 4-3 record through seven games. The refrain could have grown tiresome but Destrehan has turned any ill-intentioned remarks to its favor, according to Robicheaux.
“There’s no doubt that it motivates us,” the Destrehan coach said. “Like people say all the time, it’s where you’re at at the end of the year. We are one of two, no matter what people say. Yeah, you were 7-3, but you beat the No. 2 team in the state and you beat a very good Haughton team and a good Covington team and you deserve to be here.
“Both of us (Destrehan and Acadiana) are 4-0 in the playoffs and that’s all that matters.”
If the ball didn’t bounce the Wildcats’ way through the first seven games, the football gods seem to have been favoring Destrehan since then.
The Wildcats started their turnaround in Week 8 against Thibodaux and haven’t looked back since. When the team was 4-3 it looked like there was a chance the Wildcats might not even host a first-round game.
As the Wildcats continued to win, Destrehan moved up in the power rankings. During Week 10, a number of teams in front of the Wildcats lost, allowing Destrehan to move up all the way to the No. 7 seed.
Destrehan defeated visiting Ponchatoula in the opening round of the playoffs, and coupled with No. 23 Covington’s win over No. 10 Sam Houston, the Wildcats only had to travel to relatively close-by Covington in the second round.
That allowed Destrehan to host No. 2 West Monroe. With no high seed making it through the other side of the bracket, the Wildcats were at home for the semifinals. A win last week over Haughton sent Destrehan to the finals.
Now, the Wildcats take on Acadiana.
The schools have recent playoff history. Destrehan beat Acadiana in the Dome in 2007. In 2913, Acadiana defeated Destrehan in the semifinals. Acadiana beat Destrehan the following year in the state championship game.
When dealing with Acadiana, it always comes down to the Rams’ vaunted veer attack.
“It’s the (John) Curtis veer,” said Robicheaux. “They hit so quick. Your linemen have to be ready to play technique on short notice. You have to play responsibility. They will lull you to sleep and throw the ball. They will lull you to sleep and take it and pitch it. They want to run the dive, obviously. They want to get four yards a pop and keep the chains moving and that’s the way they play. Their running backs are so quick. They do a tremendous job of hitting the holes. They are running a lot more power this year.”
The Rams’ attack had a bit of a different look earlier in the season before returning to form, according to Robicheaux.
“In the beginning of the year they were more like three backs and running some option stuff. Now it’s the split-back. They have gone back to what they do well. It’s all about playing technique and it’s all about doing your assignment. One busted assignment and you can take it all the way. It’s like Curtis. They hit you here and hit you there an then all-of-a-sudden, they pitch it or the quarterback will take it and they do it with great athletes.”
Getting ready for the veer can prove to be a difficult task since most scout teams can’t simulate it in practice, particularly the speed and efficiency in which the Rams run the offense.
Having played a team like West Monroe two weeks ago, Robicheaux said, should help the Wildcats prepare.
“They came off the ball real well and did a good job of just smashing right at you,” said Robicheaux of West Monroe. “In the beginning of the game, it’s getting up to that speed. You have to hold on early and hope you can it figured out and match up to that speed.”
“It’s assignment football and you have to stop the dive,” Robicheaux continued. “It starts with the dive. You want them to pitch. When you are pitching the ball different things can happen and a couple of them are bad. Hopefully, you can force them to pitch and make them go outside and you can run them down. If you can’t stop the dive, it’s going to be a long night for you.”
Acadiana’s top runner is Dillan Monette.
“He does a good job. He’s not a big back but he hits in there pretty good,” said Robicheaux.
“Jeremiah Brooks and Tywin Zeno also are really good guys that move the offense and know what the expectations are,” Robicheaux added.
Acadiana’s quarterback is senior Keontae Williams.
“He throws the ball better than you would think because they don’t throw it a whole lot,” said Robicheaux.
The Rams certainly don’t throw the ball a lot.
In Acadiana’s 21-14 semifinal win over Zachary a week ago, the Rams attempted eight passes – a season high.
“The key is their offensive line. They are hard-nosed. They are tough kids, and boy, they created separation,” said Robicheaux.
If West Monroe’s offense is a bit similar to Acadiana, St. James, a team the Wildcats lost to in the regular season, may most closely resemble the Rams’ defense, according to Robicheaux.
“They are really fast and physical. They do a really good job of running to the football. You will really have to fight to get yardage,” the Destrehan coach said.
One of the guys up front for Acadiana on defense is 6-foot-2 junior Thaos Figaro. He is the son of Cedric Figaro, who once played at Notre Dame and spent time in the NFL.
Others up front are Jason Prejean and Walter Bob. All are at least 6-foot-1. Prejean is the heaviest at 260 pounds.
The Rams, Robicheaux said, are solid at linebacker.
“Derrick Bercier, Jermaine Paris and Caleb Arceneaux all can play. They are all about 6-foot, 200 pounds. They can run. You see them running down plays from sideline to sideline. The guys up front eat up a lot of blocks and it allows them to run and they make a lot of plays,” said Robicheaux.
The Rams play a lot of man-to-man coverage in the secondary.
“They will get in your face. They will harass you. They are real physical and run to the ball,” Robicheaux said.
If what the Rams will attempt to do on offense comes as no surprise to the Wildcats, the same can be said of Destrehan.
“Offensively, we are going to have to run Kyle (Edwards). The Thibodaux game, we decided we are going to run Kyle and we haven’t stopped since. He’s put the team on his shoulders and the offensive line is doing a great job.”
One more great job and the team will be state champs.
“It’s your goal,” said Robicheaux. “It’s why you are in the business. It’s everybody’s goal. To be in a place like this – there are so many factors involved – from the administration, to coaching, to our players and community involvement. There are so many people involved in this one game.
“It’s tremendous. It’s just the excitement it brings and everybody getting behind the team. It’s a truly special thing.”