THE DEFENSE RESTS
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 17, 2008
By RYAN ARENA
Destrehan Coach Stephen Robicheaux said that he knew before the season that his team couldn’t top its perfect 2007 campaign.
But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a little “same ol, same ol.”
Destrehan defied the odds on Saturday night at the Superdome, locking down a second straight undefeated season and a Class 5A state championship with a 14-3 victory over West Monroe at the State Farm Prep Classic in the Superdome.
The Wildcats (14-0) have now won 29 straight games — none sweeter than the last, which came against a top-seeded Rebels team that has six state championships to its credit.
Destrehan is the first team to successfully defend its 5A state crown since Evangel did it in 2002.
“Last year, we were supposed to win it, with all of our high-profile guys on offense,” said Robicheaux.
“This year, we were a defensive team. And I have to say, this was one of the best defensive performances I’ve been around in a long time.”
Fitting, then, was it that in a battle between two of the state’s elite defensive teams, a linebacker would key the game’s pivotal moment.
Destrehan nursed a 7-3 lead when West Monroe (13-1) began its most impressive drive of the night on its own 20. Rebels quarterback D.J. Banks picked up three first downs with his arm and one with his legs, and with less than three minutes remaining West Monroe was on the Destrehan 9, poised to take the lead.
Enter Rufus Porter. The senior intercepted an errant Banks throw at the 2, and didn’t stop there — he returned it behind a convoy of Wildcats for a game-clinching, 98-yard score, setting off a raucous celebration ensued among the Destrehan faithful.
“He’s just a big time player for us,” said Robicheaux. “He plays that weakside linebacker position for us where he has to make play after play. We challenge our guys to make plays at key times, and all year they have. Tonight it was Rufus.”
It was the longest return in the history of all LHSAA championship games.
But offensively, little went right for either team on a night that also saw the fewest points scored in the history of the 5A title game. Destrehan’s first eight drives resulted in no points, six punts, a turnover and a missed field goal. Its first six resulted in only 42 yards of total offense. On third downs, the Wildcats were 0-10.
West Monroe faired no better. The Rebels didn’t manage a first down until there was 8:04 remaining before halftime, and only converted 2-of-12 third down opportunities.
“We knew they were good defensively. They were playing around with teams before this game,” said West Monroe Coach Don Shows. “They turned it up a notch tonight. If I were a college coach, I’d recruit the whole bunch.”
The first points of the game came on the foot of the Rebels’ Cody Hollis, who booted a 24-yard field goal with 47-seconds remaining in the first half. That was set up by a reception by Taylor Underwood, who slipped past the DHS linebackers for a 31-yard gain to the 12.
That score held until early in the fourth quarter. After holding West Monroe, Destrehan took over after a punt at the Rebels’ 49. Four plays later, DHS quarterback Wynrick Smothers was pressured and hoisted up a pass from the 35 for receiver Kyron King. King recognized the underthrown ball and came back for it as defensive back Samer Mahgoub fell down. The rest was academic —King strolled into the endzone to give Destrehan its first lead with 10:05 remaining.
“I couldn’t see what happened. I was on the ground,” said Smothers. “I saw my receiver downfield, and I saw a guy coming at me. I knew I had to let the ball go for my team, and I threw it at the perfect time.
“Then I heard the crowd and thought, ‘I guess he caught it.’”
A 46-yard field goal by Destrehan’s Ryan Rome was blocked with 6:55 remaining, leaving the Wildcats vulnerable — and setting up a classic ending.
Shows was not happy with a non-call on each Destrehan score, believing King pushed off on his touchdown reception, and that defensive holding — a pulled jersey on Banks primary read — occurred on the interception.
“Destrehan’s got a heck of a team. They’re unbelievable defensively, and we hung on as long as we could,” Shows said. “That said, I felt like those two no calls really determined the outcome.”
Robicheaux says he’s not sure how this victory feels as compared to the last — it will take a little while to sink in, he says.
Not so for defensive end Darrington Sentimore — named the game’s most outstanding player after terrorizing the Rebels for two sacks and six tackles.
“This is the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said.