A big game with key playoff positioning implications awaits Friday night as undefeated East St. John visits Hahnville for a District 7-5A battle.
Last season, East St. John went 3-4 overall and 3-3 in District 7-5A. The Wildcats began last season behind the eight ball, only receiving much of their proper gameday equipment on game day of their second week of the season.
But the Wildcats went 5-1 in the regular season two years ago and 6-1 the year before under head coach Brandon Brown. This season’s East St. John squad more closely resembles those two teams in terms of results thus far, as ESJ enters unbeaten at 4-0, earning wins over St. James, Lanier (Mississippi), Thibodaux and Landry. Its most dominating performance of the season came in its district opener, earning a 57-26 win at Thibodaux after taking a 26-20 lead into the half and outscoring THS after halftime.
Hahnville (2-2, 0-1) has lost two in a row to East St. John, last winning in 2019.
“I’m looking for us to take that next step,” said Hahnville head coach Daniel Luquet. “(ESJ)is a good team at 4-0. They’ve put up a lot of points. I think our defense has played better … we need to find our stride offensively.”
As is usually the case with the squad from Reserve, the name of the game is speed. The Wildcats fly to the ball on defense and to the endzone on offense.
East St. John returned 15 starters from its squad a year ago. Their performance thus far indicates that falling short of the playoffs did not sit well with any of them.
Eight of those 15 starters come from the defensive side, where Brown has developed a reputation for his stoppers as a hard-hitting, stingy group from year to year. Luquet said it all starts the team’s talented linebackers, including OLB standout Kaden Henderson.
“The outside linebackers do a great job funneling everything inside,” Luquet said. “They’re not as big up front as they’ve been in the past, but what they lack in size they make up for in speed.”
On offense, Joshua Mitchell quarterbacks a talented group. Running back Cortez Fisher is back and figures to see plenty of action on Friday.
“Fisher’s a good back, one of the best in our district,” Luquet said. “They’re different from last year … they put the ball in the air and stretch you vertically. When they feel like they have you playing coverage and taking guys out the box, they pound you with Fisher.”
Mitchell, Luquet says, has a big arm and the weapons to take advantage.
“He’s not afraid to trust his guys. He’ll put it up for his guys to go get it and he’s very confident in the pocket,” Luquet said.
The powerful All-District back is complemented by fellow rusher George Martin, a shifty back with long speed. Tight end Devin Davis stands out at 6’6 and 225 pounds.
Last year’s game between these teams was a street fight. East St. John held off Hahnville 8-3 in a defensive battle decided by a Kylon Harris run out of the Wildcat.
Hahnville will be quite hungry to win this one after falling to No. 1 ranked Destrehan last week, 41-3, in the Battle on the River.
“We’ve moved past it,” Luquet said. “You have to be a short memory. For this week, one thing we talk about is protecting home field. Protecting your house. You win at home and steal some on the road, you’re a pretty good football team. We’re 1-1 at home, we have to get better and that starts this week. At this point, if you have the goal of having a home playoff game, these are the ones you need.”
BEAST CAN BE BEST IN CLUTCH – In Hahnville’s Week Two win over Mandeville, a 42-41 overtime thriller, the Tigers knew immediately what they wanted to dial up first to begin overtime.
“We knew we were going Beast,” Luquet said.
The Beast is the team’s version of the Wildcat formation, in which a running back or wide receiver lines up at quarterback in a very tight, heavy offensive set. With a group of gifted linemen and rushers, sprinkling it into the team’s attack has been a natural lift, one that’s also helped to ease the transition from injured quarterback Donovan Friloux to backup Ryan Gregson over the past few games.
Going Beast in overtime against Mandeville provided the game-winning points on the very first play of overtime when Calvin Smith took it in for a score.
“It’s a man vs. man type of thing, an Identity formation for us,” Luquet said. “Calvin Smith is 198 pounds. Joshua Joseph squats 400 something, 500 pounds. Chase Brooks can run really, really fast and he’s certainly not weak by any stretch of the imagination. We have to rely on those guys, three of our best players. We brought it in here in 2019 and it’s not something most see.”
Thus far, be it in the Beast or not, Hahnville’s had a lot of success running the football once again in 2022. Four different players have topped 100 yards rushing, led by Joseph’s 254 yards and three touchdowns on 43 attempts. Smith has rushed for 213 yards and three scores on 40 carries. Brooks is at 135 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts and Titus White has rushed for 118 yards on 17 carries.