The scene was a jam-packed, vibrant Tiger Stadium, the stands filled to the brim with fans of both Hahnville and quarterfinal opponent Covington.
Extra bleachers added to accommodate the high demand for seating and those without a seat were undeterred, many fans standing along the gates and enjoying the Tigers’ first quarterfinal win since 2003.
That vision might as well have been an artistic masterpiece in the eyes of Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio, who along with his team is now one victory away from a trip to the Superdome for the Class 5A championship game.
“It was fantastic,” Saltaformaggio said. “When you’re a prep football purist, you know what these games at Hahnville are like when so much is at stake. And that’s what we’ve wanted here … I’ve always said if we can get these late round playoff games at Hahnville, it’s going to be great. It was a wonderful night for everyone here and to be a part of.
“But now we’re back on the road, and we’re facing a team very used to playing in exactly that kind of environment.”
Saltaformaggio is referencing longtime 5A powerhouse Acadiana, the No. 3 seed in 5A that will host his 10th seeded Tigers Friday night in the state semifinal round in Lafayette.
Acadiana (12-1) has earned wins over Comeaux, defending 5A champion Landry-Walker and Live Oak en route to the semifinals. The last two victories proved the Wrecking Rams clutch, outlasting Landry-Walker by two, 24-22, and Live Oak by 3, 17-14.
The Rams are known for their powerful running game and veer option offense, but the team also brings a defense that has allowed more than 22 points in a game just once all season, with nine foes held to less than 20.
Acadiana is also a team perennially finding its way to the state semifinals and championship game, something Saltaformaggio said comes down to a special kind of program, one developed and in place for almost 30 years by its coaching staff.
“They’ve built that program on a foundation that was laid down about 30 years ago,” Saltaformaggio said. “They’re a physically tough run the football offensive team and they’re a physically tough stop the run defensive team. They’re sound in the kicking game. You add all of those things up and you have talent on top of that, you have continuously great football teams.
“When they have really talented teams, they go to the Dome. And even when they’re not as talented, they can find ways to get there. That’s what we aspire for, ourselves.”
Running backs Ziggy Francis and Dillan Monette and quarterback Jaylon Borel are the top threats for a consistent, ball-control offense that Saltaformaggio said does almost as much to limit opposing offenses as the talented Acadiana defense does.
“Those guys will not give you many chances with the ball,” Saltaformaggio said. “They’re very effective in how they run. They’re getting three and four yards at a time, keeping the chains moving, and maybe they pop one (big run), but the constant is they have the ball a lot. So we’re gonna have to score points when we have it. We can’t afford bad drives because they limit the amount of touches you get.”
He said the Acadiana offense isn’t complicated, but it’s effective.
“When people think of the Veer, they think it’s a high-risk offense, and it can be if you get a little fancy with it,” he said. “They do not. They play a downhill game.”
Defensively, the Rams aspire to be the first team this postseason to even slow down Anthony “Pooka” Williams, who has established himself as the star of this postseason — and not just for Hahnville.
It would be difficult for any player in the state to assert their playoff resume over Williams, who broke the 300 yard rushing mark for the third time in as many postseason games. He has gained 965 yards and scored 10 touchdowns on 95 carries, averaging nearly 10 yards a run.
“It’s a historic kind of run,” said Saltaformaggio. “It’s hard to put it into context, but when you think that he could have even closed in on 500 yards in a quarterfinal game if not for a couple of flags, what is there to say. He’s incredibly special.”
On the defensive side of the ball for Hahnville, the team has received a big lift from the return of Logan Robert, the versatile linebacker/safety who was sidelined for part of the regular season after suffering a knee injury. He tallied eight tackles in Friday’s victory.
“Getting him back has been huge,” Saltaformaggio said. “He was our best defensive player before he got hurt. He’s toughing it out for us and leading the way.”