Column: Rare string of rivalry games was made for local football fans

Joe Burrow (Photo courtesy LSUSports.net)

The past weekend felt like the sports version of a solar eclipse on a local level, as schedules lined up to provide a rare treat on the gridiron.

We had a scalding hot rivalry on each day: Friday brought us the Battle on the River as Hahnville visited Destrehan. Saturday yielded “The Game of the Century … again” as LSU took the fight down to Birmingham to face Alabama. And on Sunday, that old South rivalry reared its head again as the Saints hosted the hated Atlanta Falcons.

Of all of those teams, the only one in any kind of a down year was the previously 1-7 Falcons, who brought an unexpected and unwelcome plot twist. We’ll touch on that later. But if you’re a football fan around these parts, this was close to heaven, with a major event going down each day.

It’s the kind of occurrence that deserves some reflection, I say. So a quick look back at each game …

Destrehan fells Hahnville.  I didn’t see a favorite on paper before this one. Hahnville was enjoying a dream season to this point at 8-1, while Destrehan entered 6-3, its first regular season with three in the loss column in close to a decade. But the Wildcats have been a different team in the games senior quarterback Damarius Jackson has been healthy for; in games he’s played start to finish they’re now 7-1, including Friday’s 23-21 win over the Tigers.

For DHS head coach Stephen Robicheaux, defensive coordinator Malter Scobel and the Destrehan defense, the fourth quarter of the game was representative of the unit at its best: attacking, relentless and confounding for an offensive protection scheme. Now, the Wildcats enter the postseason on a heck of a run; if one considers a strong defensive team with SEC-level players at running back and wide receivers a difficult draw, then Ponchatoula may not be that happy today—the 26 seed will travel to DHS in round one. The Wildcats’ current three game win streak has vaulted them to the No. 7 seed in the state.

For Hahnville, the past two weeks have been trying, though the difficulty of its closing games to the regular season was a fact noted by HHS head coach Nick Saltaformaggio all year. The two losses dropped the Tigers from the projected No. 2 seed to No. 12, though Hahnville will play round one in Tiger Stadium, where Coach Salt and his team welcome the Chalmette Owls – perhaps a strange feeling for the veteran coach, whose first head coaching job came with the Chalmette program.

Lost in all of that may be this nugget: Hahnville lost this chapter of the DHS rivalry, but it came by two points. This is a resilient and talented group that will pick itself up off the mat.

LSU wins shootout with Alabama. Not quite 9-6, was it?

The Tigers’ 46-41 win over the Tide was no doubt cathartic for so many LSU fans who have watched Nick Saban’s team run the SEC West year after year. Even after watching both teams pile on the points all season long, this game felt jarring to me; LSU/Bama has never been about spread offense, athletes in space and piling up points, yet here we were, with Burrow/Tua putting on a show for the country at large.

This was the highest rated college football game on network television since … oh, 2011, when YES YOU GUESSED IT, Alabama faced LSU in the previous “Game of the Century.” Who would have thought the two NFL factories in the SEC would bring so many fans to the yard? We may yet see it again in the playoff as well (What, you think the villain is dead already? You know better. They’ll find a way, and by they I mean Alabama, the playoff committee, the NCAA, or whoever it takes).

Joe Burrow is likely the Heisman favorite, and I’m going to repeat that so the context sinks in: AN LSU QUARTERBACK IS THE HEISMAN FRONTRUNNER. The passing offense, despite a healthy talent base year after year, has been … not this. Not even close to this, not ever and certainly not in recent seasons.

Coach O had a lot of doubters when he was hired initially. I was one of them, and I was wrong. He’s a masterful recruiter, motivator, and his vision to change the perception of and plan of attack for this program has been carried out masterfully. Orgeron has nine wins over top 10 ranked teams since taking over the LSU program. That’s about an entire season’s worth, and Saturday was the peak among them.

Falcons upset Saints. And Saints fans. They REALLY upset Saints fans.

I don’t like to play the “team didn’t show up” card very often because I feel like that often undersells the role of the opposition. And in this case, it’s indeed hard to win in the NFL, and Atlanta was not a typical one win team, what with an elite passer commanding its offense.

But the Saints truly were not ready to play in their 26-9 loss Sunday, and not even close to it in my mind. It was the kind of undisciplined game from the team that, to their credit, I can’t recall many traces of over the past few seasons. 12 penalties, though … four of them hands to the face. I’m often the first to blast officiating when it comes to the NFL, and particularly the Saints for obvious reasons these days. The Saints weren’t jobbed. The replays we saw in the Superdome showed pretty clear fouls in most cases, and they came in critical situations too often.

The offensive line, established as one of the league’s elite units, played the worst I’ve seen it play in three seasons. Atlanta’s pass defense has been awful this season, but if its front four could get the kind of pressure it got on Drew Brees on Sunday and do that consistently, they’d be among the very best. When the Falcons didn’t blitz, there were still instances of instant pressure. It simply can’t happen.

I’m less concerned about that loss as I am annoyed and disappointed. I think most of the negatives we saw came as result of focus and execution needing improvement, and this team has a strong track record in both areas. But in the quest for home field advantage, it’s more likely than not that this is the kind of strange, completely avoidable loss that will come back to bite you.

 

About Ryan Arena 1813 Articles
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