As Hahnville prepares to host district foe Terrebonne this Friday night at Tiger Stadium, the team rides in off of arguably its signature win since head coach Nick Saltaformaggio took over the program in 2014.
The Tigers traveled to face archrival Destrehan last week on the back of two consecutive losses and no wins over their cross-parish foes in their past five meetings.
Many counted Hahnville out, but the Tigers rewrote the script in a 20-13 District 7-5A opening victory, the first over Destrehan for Saltaformaggio as HHS coach.
The veteran coach was emotional after the contest, which he called a “benchmark game” for the Hahnville program.
“It’s because Destrehan is such a great program,” Saltaformaggio said. “They’re unbelievably well-coached, a model program. So when you play a program like that, that’s always the benchmark. It’s unique because they’re our biggest rival.
“That’s why I was so emotional. It’s almost like watching your son graduate high school or college. You’re watching these kids grow up.”
Saltaformaggio said in the days leading up to the game that the will to win exhibited by Destrehan players every week was their defining characteristic. He was particularly proud to see that trait reflected in the play of his players last Friday night.
“I hope we can propel ourselves to having that kind of program, like a Destrehan, who is playing in rounds 3, 4 and 5 every postseason,” Saltaformaggio said. “That’s the kind of program I want to be. You have to beat that kind of program to be that kind of program.”
While the Hahnville running game ran into a roadblock against Brother Martin two weeks ago, Hahnville set the tone early for a big night on the ground last Friday. Anthony Williams rushed for 232 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries while Jha’quan Jackson added 100 yards on the ground of his own.
Saltaformaggio credited his players’ effort and also an adjustment to insert fullback John Pearsall into the lineup to give his backs a lead blocker.
“(Pearsall) was an unsung hero. He played very well,” Saltaformaggio said. “And our kids simply showed up to play. If we show up with that kind of desire, you’re gonna win far more often than you lose.
The challenge now is to not suffer a letdown performance at home against an unbeaten Terrebonne team. Terrebonne (4-0) has defeated Ellender, South Terrebonne, Assumption and Patterson in the past four weeks, three of them in blowout fashion. That includes the team’s last game, a 60-27 road win over Patterson.
“It doesn’t do us any good to get a win like we did Friday and then take a giant step back,” Saltaformaggio said. “We’ve done that once this year. For us, we have to put (the Destrehan game) behind us and focus completely on Terrebonne, a team coming in here off a 60 point effort.”
Terrebonne is a balanced, spread offensive attack keyed by quarterback Ja’khi Douglas. Running backs Keshawn James, Chaz Ward and Craig Duplantis Jr. are a “three-headed monster” Saltaformaggio notes can all burn a defense.
One would expect gaudy individual statistics on a night a team scores 60 points, and Terrebonne’s numbers against Patterson don’t disappoint. Douglas rushed six times for 126 yards and a touchdown last week and completed 4-of-12 passes for 104 yards, a touchdown and an interception. James rushed 11 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Ward tallied 131 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries.
Count “Coach Salt” among those impressed.
“It’s the best Terrebonne team I’ve seen since I’ve coached against them,” said Saltaformaggio, readying for his fourth Hahnville-Terrebonne matchup. “They mix it up on you offensively and have very good skill kids.”
Last week’s Hahnville win was its first over Destrehan since 2012, and HHS had to hold off a late Wildcats rally to secure it.
Anthony Williams’ 50 yard touchdown run in the third quarter pushed Hahnville ahead 20-3 and proved to be the winning points on a night the Tigers’ running game took charge.
“It’s my senior year and we beat them. That’s a big accomplishment,” said Williams. “I was so happy because that’s all I wanted. Everyone came out to play tonight. When our line comes out and does what they do like they did tonight, then I’ve gotta hold up my end, and tonight everyone came through.”
It was Destrehan’s first district loss since 2012.
After Williams’ long touchdown run early in the second half, HHS stopped Destrehan yet again in the redzone, this time forcing a Stratton field goal attempt from the Tigers’ 7 that he made to make it 20-6.
With 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, DHS finally punched in its first touchdown of the night on a 3-yard run by J.R. Blood.
But it would be the only score of the night. Hahnville drove the ball down the field to kill more than six minutes of time before Destrehan stopped a fourth and one run with just over a minute left. The Tigers defense held from there.