In the midst of celebration, believing they’d felled a defending state champion and a recent nemesis, Hahnville’s joy turned to sorrow when a late, controversial penalty flag negated a game-winning field goal in the second round of the football playoffs at Zachary. It ultimately resulted in a missed re-kick and a sudden end to a Tigers season that inspired very high hopes.
But as the Tigers learned Saturday, it didn’t dull the appreciation their school or community had for their efforts this season, as the Edward Dufrene Community Center hosted a ceremony spotlighting the varsity football squad to celebrate their accomplishments throughout the season and show support in the wake of its difficult conclusion.
“We’re extremely proud of these young men,” said Hahnville principal Brian Lumar, a driving force behind the one-time event. “In no way are we bashing or blaming anything on officiating … but that night I saw a group of young boys become young men. They weren’t just hurt, but they were in significant pain … I think about every one of these kids as one of my own, so it was devastating for me to see them in that moment. We wanted to show them a small token of appreciation from a community standpoint.”
The theme of the night was persevering through adversity. Lumar and head coach Nick Saltaformaggio were two of a number of speakers before the crowd at the event, which included the team’s players and their parents, coaches, school faculty and other supporters. The team received a special video message from current New Orleans Saints executive and former Saints player Fred McAfee voicing his support. Senior linebacker John Pearsall and junior quarterback Drew Naquin also spoke.
The controversy surrounding the final moments of Hahnville’s 21-19 loss to Zachary stemmed from the timing and uncommon nature of the particular penalty call on what was initially believed to be the game’s final play. Kicker Tate White made a 32-yard field goal that would have resulted in a one-point Hahnville victory with no time left. The Tigers were celebrating their victory already when they became aware of a flag dropped near the line of scrimmage.
The flag was for holding on the end of the offensive line, a call rarely made on field goal attempts, much less on a deciding kick. Pushed 10 yards back by the penalty, the second kick fell no good, and Zachary – for the fourth time in recent years – had once again eliminated Hahnville from the postseason.
“We thought we had it,” said Hahnville senior safety Brandon Comardelle. “They threw the flag, and it felt terrible. It was pretty tough, and pretty sad … I wish we could have kept going, further and further to the Dome.”
On the night of the loss, Saltaformaggio said he’d never seen anything like the call in all his years of coaching. Naquin called the penalty “unfathomable” Saturday in his address to the crowd, while Pearsall said there was considerable hurt and shock in the wake of the game.
While the veteran coach said on Saturday night he and the team have put the loss behind them – “if you’re not moving forward, other people are catching up,” he quipped – he admitted it wasn’t easy to get over it. Naquin, likewise, said the team will only get stronger from the experience, because “that’s what Tigers do.”
“It took a long time,” Saltaformaggio said. “I struggled with it for awhile. But I’m not gonna let it beat me down, because I couldn’t let it beat down this football program. If you look at our team the last six years, resiliency has kind of been our bell cow, and I see how our players are already working and can see how we’re excited to go have a big year. But we all definitely appreciate Coach Lumar, Valero and Hahnville for doing this for us.”
Lumar said that the finish to the playoff game “didn’t sit well” with him, and while he couldn’t change that night’s result, he hoped Saturday’s event showed the players their efforts did not go unnoticed, unappreciated or unrecognized.
“I’d never seen anything like that in all my years of watching football and coaching (basketball),” Lumar said. “It’s a shame to have the game come down to that, but whatever the situation may have been, they left everything on the field and they’ve only persevered since then. We can never take back what happened but we can show our appreciation.”
Junior linebacker Shamarr Moses said the event represented the kind of strong support system he and his teammates have surrounding them.
“No matter what happens, they have our back,” Moses said. “For us, this is about more than just football. This is a brotherhood. And this is a chance to get together, reflect on what happened and move forward, while seeing how much love we have surrounding us with our administrators and coaches. It holds us together.”
Moses concurred with his coach that it’s now about moving forward.
“We are Hahnville, and we always will move forward,” Moses said. “I forgive what happened, but I don’t forget. It’s just more motivation to push on with my teammates, because our bond in that locker room is so strong.”