Must score road win at No. 11 Walker to get started
Two weeks ago, Hahnville was struggling to cement a postseason spot in Class 5A. But as the No. 22 seeded Tigers gear up to visit No. 11 Walker, they suddenly find themselves one of the most intriguing teams in the Class 5A postseason field—and perhaps the most dangerous, by far, among lower seeds.
That’s because the Hahnville (5-5) team that took the field in Week 10 at in a 48-0 win at H.L. Bourgeois and the one headed to Walker to kick-start the postseason is a completely different animal than the one that took the field for most of the season — and that’s because of the addition of quarterback Andrew Robison, the highly-touted transfer quarterback who was granted his eligibility to play last week by an arbitrator.
Hahnville has relied on defense, the running game and guile to pull itself out of a 1-4 start and qualify for the playoffs.
“I think we saw the team everyone thought we would have back in August,” Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio said of his team’s performance Friday night. “I think every player on our team played his best game Friday night. (Robison) has added a big spark.”
Nonetheless, Hahnville is now tasked with earning a road victory in round one at Walker (8-2), which is a perfect 5-0 at home this season.
Saltaformaggio said he knows the Tigers will be tested, but also noted Hahnville’s been strong on the road in the postseason during his tenure, with notable away wins at Haughton, Ruston, and — in one of the classic wins in school history — at Acadiana in last season’s state semifinal, a win that represented the first and only postseason loss at home for then-Rams coach Ted Davidson.
“Some teams play very well at home … we’re a team that plays really well on the road,” Saltaformaggio said. “It’s a good matchup in that respect.”
HOW WALKER ATTACKS: Walker is extremely talented at wide receiver, led by top playmaker Jalen Cook. Byron Lockhart and Braylen Lewis are others the Tigers must attempt to corral.
Cook, the MVP of last season’s Class 5A state basketball championship game, cannot be permitted to create too many explosive plays, Saltaformaggio said — though at times, there’s not much you can do.
“He makes a lot of those one-handed Odell Beckham-like catches,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s about 6’2 and he’ll go up and get it with one hand. He’s a big long kid and is physically built.
Defensively, end Ke’Andre Ventress keys much of what the team does up front. And Lockhart plays two ways and is the team’s leading playmaker defensively.
“He’s their best player,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’ll play some Wildcat quarterback, linebacker, some safety … he’s just a really good football player.”
BRACKET TALK: If Hahnville can get past Walker, it could be meeting a ghost of the immediate past: it would play the winner of No. 6 Zachary and No. 27 Sulphur. Zachary ultimately ended Hahnville’s postseason run last season in the Class 5A state championship game en route to sealing the 5A crown.
TRIAL BY FIRE: Saltaformaggio called his squad battle-tested after playing one of the most difficult schedules in the state. Hahnville faced Class 5A’s No. 2 (Destrehan), 4 (John Ehret), 7 (Terrebonne) seeds, as well as Division I’s No. 6 seed (Brother Martin).
“That’s one thing I know we can hang our hat on … between ourselves, West Monroe and Ehret, nobody else has played the kind of schedule we have,” Saltaformaggio said.
DYNAMIC ATTACK: It could be tough to get a true read on the Hahnville offense for Walker’s defensive staff, with just one week of film to go on with Robison on the field. Robison was 13 of 19 for 156 yards and two touchdowns last week, and Saltaformaggio said he didn’t look remotely like a player who hadn’t seen game action in over a year.
“We’ve obviously changed drastically,” Saltaformaggio said. “If we can pass protect, I think we’ll be able to move the football and get it down the field. But they’re 8-2 for a reason … we have to go up and block them if we’re gonna have success. We need to play better up front.”
PAVING THE WAY: Hahnville’s chances to make a deep run increased exponentially with Robison’s addition, but his season would have began and ended with last week’s game had his teammates not pulled together to win three of their next four after starting 1-4.
“The kids we had playing quarterback (Andrew Naquin and Jha’Quan Jackson) handled it as unbelievably as two high school kids could handle that situation. Because of that, and because of the type of kids we have in our football program, nobody ever gave up on this season. They stayed the course,” Saltaformaggio said.