Last year, three days after Dutchtown’s football season crashed in a first-round upset defeat, senior defensive end Keynan Edwards saw the signs of a better tomorrow.
With the weekend to rebound from the shock of a 28-14 loss to Ponchatoula, the projected members of the Griffins’ starting defensive line, along with some of their offensive line brethren, were back in the weight room trying to close the fresh wounds and work through the pain they never want to experience again.
That turned out to be a catalyst that’s been indicative of the drive and determination this Dutchtown team — especially on defense — has displayed throughout a season that’s reached the second round of the state playoffs.
When No. 16 Dutchtown (8-2) visits No. 1 Archbishop Rummel (10-0) at Joe Yenni Stadium in Metairie for a Class 5A regional at 7 p.m. Friday, the Griffins are forever mindful of the journey they have taken and the steps that remain.
“Since that first-round knockout, we’ve been pushing, giving up the excuses and listening to our coaches,” Edwards said. “The difference this year is we’ve kept pushing. We all knew we had a common goal, and that was to get to state and that’s what we’re working on now.”
With only three starters back, the challenge for Dutchtown’s defense mirrored the offense, which also had three starters returning.
What the Griffins had in place was the foundation in which to build around, including three-year starters such as defensive lineman David Elias, middle linebacker Alex Thibodeaux and second-year starter Tevin Reed in the secondary.
“I think I have a great defensive staff,” coach Benny Saia said. “Our defensive coaches have done a great job of putting our kids in really good positions. They’ve accepted the responsibility to be where they’re supposed to be, and the defense has been solid all year.”
Never was that more evident than in Dutchtown’s 20-10 first-round victory over St. Amant last week, when the Griffins turned in a stellar effort, forcing a pair of turnovers and limiting their high-scoring opposition to one touchdown and 261 yards.
It was the fourth time this season Dutchtown, which yields 15.1 points per game, allowed 17 or fewer points — including a pair of shutouts.
“This year we really take pride in trying to shut out the opponent,” Thibodeaux said. “It doesn’t always happen, but that’s always our goal. If we go in with that mentality, you’re going to play harder. The past few years we haven’t had that mentality. This year we’re more of a team, and everybody’s doing their job for us to be successful.”
Thibodeaux, who is 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, has been one of the team’s cornerstones and has developed into one of the program leaders in career tackles. Thibodeaux, who scored 34 on the ACT, followed up a 100-tackle season a year ago to lead the Griffins with 114 stops this season, including four tackles for loss and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Elias, a University of Louisiana-Monroe commitment, plays tackle and end, and the 6-2, 260-pounder provides Dutchtown with a physical presence capable of occupying several blockers and clogging the middle against the run. He ranks second on the team with 64 tackles, with three stops for loss and a fumble recovery.
After playing more as a reserve last season, Edwards (6-1, 238) has evolved to the point of becoming a stabilizing force with 56 tackles and four sacks.
“(Defensive coordinator Chris Daigle) has gotten it across to us that it’s really a defensive game, and in order for the team to be good the defense has to be good,” Edwards said.
“Every time we go out, we just try and play with our hearts and stay together as a team and do our jobs.”
This week that encompasses a matchup with Rummel, a team with a diverse approach. Not only are the Raiders capable of running inside and out behind a big, physical offensive line but senior Division I quarterback prospect Damian Williams can apply pressure running and throwing the ball.
“I think this is going to be the biggest challenge by far,” Elias said. “Not only are they a No. 1 team but they’ve got the most athletes. I think we’re ready and preparing well. We’re focused and I think it’s going to be good.”
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