Destrehan upsets West Monroe for Louisiana title

NEW ORLEANS -- Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux started receiving phone calls as soon as the semifinals of the Louisiana Class 5A playoffs were complete.

The brackets were down to No. 1 West Monroe and No. 2 Destrehan. It struck a familiar chord.

The Wildcats would finally get another shot at powerhouse West Monroe, which began a regional football dynasty in its title-game victory over Destrehan in 1993.

The Rebels won that year 28-21 and would go on to win six state championships, including two mythical national titles, in the next 12 years, while Destrehan would have to scratch its way back to power.

"Last Saturday morning, it was 7:30 a.m., and my wife was ready to kill me with all the calls in the morning," Robicheaux said. "I got a call from Chandler Mashia, our quarterback that year. He said, 'Coach, we've got to go get those guys.'

"I said, 'Chandler, it's a whole different situation. We're going to do our best and do what we can do.'"

West Monroe had built a regional reputation with its winning streaks, national titles and even a national weekly TV show on ESPN.

To beat West Monroe, the Wildcats would have to stop one of the more balanced Rebels offenses in recent years. Geared for the run during most of their reign, the Rebels found a strong arm as well as fast legs in quarterback D.J. Banks.

By a "different situation," Robicheaux meant his team would have to play conservatively on offense and find a way to stop West Monroe's dynamic offense. The Rebels had averaged more than 45 points in their first four playoff games.

But the Wildcats, who have given no opponent more than 18 points this season, found a way.

Banks, a senior committed to Tulane, averaged 6.7 yards per rush this season, but had only 48 yards on 18 carries against Destrehan. He passed for 1,471 on the season, but was held to 134 on Saturday, and the Wildcats sealed the 14-3 win with a 98-yard interception return. It was Banks' third interception of the season.

The Wildcats also hemmed up West Monroe's top rusher. Ladarius Abrams rushed for 1,324 yards on the season, but had 18 yards on seven carries against Destrehan.

"We had a linebacker that spoke to the kids this week about going out there and winning it for us," Robicheaux said.

It was a linebacker, Rufus Porter, who intercepted on West Monroe's potential game-winning drive and scored the touchdown that sealed Destrehan's championship Saturday at the Louisiana Superdome.

"That was probably one of the best defensive performances I've been around in a long time," Robicheaux said.

Maybe it will replace some of the memories of 1993, when Robicheaux was an assistant coach. He became Destrehan's head coach in 2000.

"There's moments you remember about '93," Robicheaux said. "I still wake up at night and see that offensive lineman for West Monroe up on the JumboTron. That vision still wakes me up. Hopefully, this erases that dream."

Destrehan's nightmares are gone. The Rebels now will be haunted by the Wildcats' defensive line.

"We knew they were going to be good defensively," West Monroe coach Don Shows said. "They turned it up a notch tonight. I don't know if they've got a weak player or not. If I was a college, I'd recruit the whole bunch."

Defensive tackle Darrington Sentimore is already taken, committing to Alabama in the middle of the season. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior earned Most Valuable Player honors after leading a defense that denied West Monroe any entry into the end zone for four quarters.

Sentimore finished with six tackles and two sacks.

Not only has Destrehan taken over the mantle as the best big school in Louisiana; its field house is beginning to resemble West Monroe's -- in that it is filled with college recruiters.

"We hoped we can get some things like this done," Robicheaux said. "I'm the luckiest guy on the face of the earth picking up a tradition -- it's all because of tradition. It's nothing at all that I do. It's the program, and I'm the one fortunate enough to be in the program now."

Tabby Soignier is a reporter for The (Monroe, La.) News-Star.