Battle of Wildcats to decide District 7-5A

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 5, 2013


LAPLACE — The district schedule-makers couldn’t have set things up any better.
When Destrehan visits East St. John on Friday night, District 7-5A championship honors will be on the line as two red-hot archrivals square off in a true battle of strengths.
Will Destrehan’s seemingly unstoppable offense continue to romp, or will East St. John’s powerful defensive front be what finally corrals Donovan Isom?
The circumstances of this game changed after last week’s “spying” controversy and the ensuing sanctions at Destrehan. Because of Destrehan’s forfeit to South Lafourche on Oct. 25, East St. John has already banked a share of the district crown. Destrehan must defeat East St. John (6-3, 6-0) to force a split crown.
But on the field, neither of these teams have lost a district game at all. East St. John hit the ground running once district play began, rattling off six wins in a row and averaging 37 points per game over that stretch.
“We think we’ve got a lot of football left,” said East St. John coach Phillip Banko. “I know for sure that Destrehan’s a real, real good football team. We’ve got a big test ahead of us, a big battle on our hands.”
Destrehan (8-1, 5-1), meanwhile, would be 9-0 if not for the forfeit. Isom and tailback Will Mathews have led a supercharged shotgun spread offense that’s averaging 49 points per game.
Isom, a Utah commitment, did not throw a touchdown pass last week against H.L. Bourgeois. DHS didn’t need one in a 63-8 rout, but Isom’s numbers still blast off the page: he’s passed for 25 touchdowns and just one interception and has passed for more than 1,800 yards. He boasts a complete set of wide receivers, a strong ground game, and Isom himself can run when things break down.
Mathews has provided a strong counterpunch on the ground. The DHS tailback has scored 19 times this season and rushed for 866 yards.
Alfred Smith, Kirk Merritt and John Williams have been Isom’s three top receivers. They’ve combined for 17 touchdowns, splitting them almost evenly.
“I don’t think you can stop them, short of sneaking 12 men out on the field. We’re hoping to slow them down a little,” said Banko. “They’ve got six skill people than can really hurt you. This will be the best team we’ve played, no doubt about it.”
Merritt and Williams have added another dimension since joining the DHS team this year, Banko noted.
“Those guys weren’t there last year, and they’re pushing good players to the bench,” said Banko. “It really challenges you to find a way to cover everybody.”
There is no secret to how East St. John wants to attack, meanwhile: it’s via the run.
Quarterback Xavier Lewis has rushed for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. Tailback Nigel Anderson has emerged as one of the top threats in the state — his 1,113 yards is second in the River Region. He’s scored eight touchdowns.
“Hopefully, between those two we can provide them with some of the same problems in terms of who to stop,” said Banko. “For us, it’s limiting Isom and Mathews. For them, it’s about Xavier and Nigel.”
Kyle Patterson and Jarrod Jackson have been the one-two punch on the outside at wide receiver, with Patterson emerging as a major playmaker in recent weeks.
Last week he tallied 88 yards and two scores on three receptions.
But if ESJ is to win the game, its defensive line will likely need to control the action.
Darren Williams, Charlie Payne and Davaron Stockman each have accumulated six sacks or more this season.
If they can pressure Isom and allow more of their teammates to play back in coverage, it could be the lift ESJ needs to win.
“We’d like to think so,” said Banko.
“They’ve played a lot of good teams … but we know our four up front are our cornerstones defensively, the cornerstones of our team.”