ESJ looks to hand DHS 1st loss of year

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, November 4, 2014


RESERVE — Destrehan’s gunning for an undefeated regular season, but rival East St. John would like nothing better than to play spoiler — and at the same time, launch itself into the postseason on a serious wave of momentum.

East St. John travels to face Destrehan Friday night in the final regular season game for both teams. With a win, DHS would clinch an outright District 7-5A championship and, perhaps, could jump up from No. 7 in a tight cluster of teams ranked together in the 5A power points rankings.

East St. John’s defense was stout in last week’s 48-21 win over Terrebonne, with two Terrebonne touchdowns coming after the game had been decided. Destrehan (9-0, 6-0), however,  represents a different animal , and test, for that defense entirely.

The No. 2 ranked team in Class 5A, DHS has scored 38.1 points per game while simultaneously showing off one of the state’s most accomplished defenses, allowing 20 points in a game just once — last week’s 44-20 victory over H.L. Bourgeois.   

Destrehan is 22-1 over its last 23 games and has not lost on the field in the regular season since 2012. DHS has outscored all but one opponent by double figures over the past two regular seasons.

“On paper, no, we don’t match up very well,” East St. John coach Phillip Banko said. “You’re looking at a very good, very fast, very well-coached team that happens to be undefeated for a reason. I’m not sure who you can lock onto to keep that team in check. It’s a tough assignment for sure, but we’re not backing down from it. We’re going to head over there and try to make this thing a dance.”

Will Matthews has become the backbone of the DHS offense this season, the tailback having scored 15 touchdowns so far. Kirk Merritt is a dangerous dual threat — the team has begun using him in spots at tailback this season after emerging as its top vertical receiver last season, and Merritt has generated big plays from both spots this season. Alfred Smith had the biggest game among receivers last week, hauling in five receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown, while John Williams is another accomplished pass catcher.

Sophomore quarterback Malcolm Darensborg has been at the center of it all since taking over for Donovan Isom, and he hasn’t missed a beat. DHS has scored 42 or more points in each of its last three wins.

“Kirk Merritt is one of the most athletic playmakers you’re going to see,” Banko said. “Williams is a good receiver, as is Smith. They’ve got Matthews at tailback … they put pressure on you from all areas.”

East St. John (5-4, 4-2) has run the ball well all season long behind Xavier Lewis and Nigel Anderson, and this could be a spot where ESJ can flip the script from past weeks, where teams have looked to control the clock to keep those explosive players on the sideline.

Banko said the run will continue to be the ESJ lynchpin, but that his team can’t bank on keeping DHS’ offense on the sideline.

“It would be great if it had that effect,” Banko said. “But you’ve got to remember we’ve got a young offensive line, and their defensive line is senior-laden, a strength of that football team. We’d love to say we can go out there and hold the ball, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to score any way we can.”

While Destrehan is favored by most headed into Friday night, East St. John can look to Hahnville and Thibodaux for something of a blueprint. Both teams gave Destrehan tough games that were close much of the time, and both were teams ESJ went toe-to-toe with; if not for a handful of second-half turnovers in each game, East St. John could have emerged with victories.

An upset win this Friday would be a major boon headed into the postseason, Banko said.

“You can look at the rivalry aspect all you want, but we’re playing to get ready for the playoffs,” Banko said. “This is a great way to do that because we’re going to be competing in a playoff-like atmosphere Friday night. I know that for sure.”