"Survival" is the best word to describe Hahnville's opening playoff win after the Tigers held back a furious rally by West Jefferson in the final minute of regulation for a 35-31 victory. But against No. 2 seed St. Thomas More this Friday, the Tigers will have to do much more than just survive if they hope to keep their state title dreams alive.
|(From left to right) Jontrell Lockett, Jordan Dudley, Ben Taylor and Jordan Thompson stop West Jefferson running back Albert McDonald in the backfield in last week’s 35-31 win. The Tiger defense will be challenged by a multi-faceted STM offense that avera
Last week, the Tigers trailed West Jefferson 21-14 at the break, but looked like a different football team on both sides of the ball in the second half. Using a pounding running attack that relied on a heavy dose of star running back Ahmad White with an occasional peppering of fullback Treval Dunmiles, Hahnville didn't have a problem moving the football.
And because the Tigers were having so much success running the ball, it allowed quarterback Brian Ensminger to get the Tigers back into the game with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Dontrell Strickland with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter.
In the fourth, the Tigers would take the lead after Ensminger and Strickland hooked up once again to bring Hahnville to the 7-yard line. Dunmiles then ran two straight times, eventually carrying defenders into the end zone. The Tigers missed the extra point, but went on top 26-21.
The Hahnville defense, which had given up several big plays in the first half before shutting West Jeff down in the second, gave their offense a nice Christmas gift on the Buccaneers next possession.
Jontrell Lockett, who played one of his best games of the year, flew into West Jeff quarterback Shawn Hoye Jr. and knocked the ball out of the signal caller's hands. Lockett then went down to the ground to recover the fumble at the 31.
It was Lockett's second forced fumbled of the game.
The Tigers had trouble moving the ball after that, but Ensminger had a gutsy run on 4th and 6, managing to pick up seven yards to the 7-yard line before going out of bounds. Dunmiles would score his second touchdown shortly after to put the Tigers on top 35-21 after a successful 2-point conversion with 3:37 left in the game.
But that’s when things got interesting.
The Tiger defense came up big once again when sophomore Sergio Medina intercepted Hoye near the Hahnville goal line with 1:11 left, seemingly giving the Tigers the victory. But the Tigers failed to pick up a first down after Medina's pick, and instead of punting it back to West Jeff, Hahnville took a safety with 36 seconds left in the game.
On the ensuing kick, West Jeff had a huge return and would score after Hoye tossed an 8-yard touchdown. The Buccaneers successfully completed a two-point conversion and trailed 35-31.
West Jeff then recovered an onsides kick, which worked perfectly and allowed them to start on Hahnville's 49 with 9 seconds left. Hoye lofted the ball to the end zone on the first play, and the Tigers were flagged for interference, moving the ball to the 34 with 1 second left.
That's when Hoye found Patrick Bethley wide open inside the 10-yard line. But before Bethley could make a turn and head into the end zone, he was knocked out of bounds at the 2-yard line by Tyren Hills to preserve the Tiger win.
"We played good enough to keep playing," Hahnville head coach Lou Valdin said. "We had some big breakdowns on special teams that were really disappointing, but when you get to the playoffs, it's all about survival."
Now, the Tigers will face their biggest test of the season when they travel to Lafayette to take on STM. The Cougars are 11-0 on the year, and shine on both sides of the ball. Their offense, led by a two-quarterback system that features passing threat Brandon Bergeron and athlete Matt Flores, averages nearly 40 points per game.
On defense, the Cougars give up just 11 points per game.
They beat six teams in the regular season that advanced to the playoffs, including a three-game stretch where they knocked off Catholic, Evangel and Acadiana.
Bergeron, who is just a sophomore, is extremely accurate and has thrown for 1,575 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Flores has rushed for 891 yards on 133 carries and has scored 17 touchdowns.
Though STM uses two quarterbacks, Valdin said that it doesn't make them harder to prepare for.
"One runs and one throws and they kind of tip their hand a bit depending on who's in the game, but they don't care," Valdin said. "They wait for you to make a mistake and then they make you pay for it."
Valdin said the main reason for STM's success is not the play of their quarterbacks, but is instead the strength of their offensive line.
"They do everything well on offense and they are very balanced, but the biggest thing is that they come off the ball and stay with their blocks," he said. "They are very big, very physical and they are extremely good at the fundamentals.
"They are just as good run blocking as they are in pass protection."
The Cougars defense is just as challenging to prepare for.
"They have a lot of different fronts and they run to the ball well and are all very good tacklers," Valdin said.
Valdin added that teams have had trouble running on STM this season, and that his squad’s best chance for success is to be able to throw the football.
"We have to be able to throw the ball because it's going to be difficult to run on them," he said. "We are going to have to throw to loosen them up to set up the run."
And because of that field position will be huge.
"They have great special teams, and like us, they have to drive the football to score," Valdin said. "It's going to be very similar to our games against Dutchtown and Lutcher. We are going to have to play extremely well."