Hahnville to host Ouachita in opening round

Cincere Simmons of Hahnville runs the ball from the "Beast" formation. (Photo by Ellis Alexander)

A year ago at this time, it was a punch to the gut for Hahnville, which saw its projected No. 10 seed tumble down to 22 and a playoff game in Tiger Stadium vanish, replaced by a road date in round one.

The Tigers wouldn’t be denied two years in a row, and for the first time since 2019 Hahnville will play host in the postseason as the 16th seeded Tigers host No. 17 Ouachita Parish.

Hahnville head coach Daniel Luquet said getting this one at home was a preseason goal, after back-to-back years of long round one road trips.

“Yeah, for the last couple of years we’ve had to go on the road in the first round, go up north, take a five-hour trip … it’s definitely a bonus to play at home, have a normal day and play in front of our fans,” said Luquet. “Our kids are excited. One of our goals in the preseason was to have a home playoff game to start it off. We’ve had a good week of practice so far and we’re ready to rock and roll.

“Last year, it really wore on our kids who felt like they really worked hard to get that home game and were excited to play in front of their family, their friends who maybe can’t make that trip. So, we’re excited to have that chance this year.”

Making it perhaps all the more satisfying is the fact Hahnville battled through a season-ending injury in the jamboree to quarterback Donovan Friloux, whom the Tigers’ offense was built around. After an adjustment period, Ryan Gregson has rounded into form at quarterback, throwing eight touchdown passes over the past three games. The offense might be peaking at just the right time.

“We didn’t want to throw everything at (Gregson) at one time, see what he’s comfortable with and what he feels strongest with … he’s done a great job throwing vertically down the field,” said Luquet. “We’re going to need to be able to make plays in our passing game given how good Ouachita is in the box.”

Ouachita Parish (5-5) is coming off a victory last week in its final regular season game, a decisive 48-7 win over Pineville. OPHS has played one of the most challenging schedules in the state, including dates against Neville, West Monroe and Ruston – the latter two representing district opponents.

The Lions fell in matchups against the latter two. But a game against Neville in Week 2 represents OPHS’ signature victory of the season, a 43-29 win over the No. 2 seed in Class 5A. Ouachita brings a powerful offense to Boutte, averaging 35.2 points per game this season. Last season, Ouachita Parish made a run to the state quarterfinals.

The winner of Friday’s matchup advances to round two to face top-seeded Ruston, which has earned a bye in the opening round.

Ouachita brings a powerful offense to Boutte, averaging 35.2 points per game this season – but the team could be reeling a bit after suffering key injuries to the two most productive players on its offense. Ouachita running back Carldell Sirmons was the key to the team’s victory over Neville. He rushed for 262 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries in that game, also adding nearly 100 yards as a kick returner. Quarterback Zach Jackson directs the team’s powerful offense.

Both players sat out of Ouachita’s win over Pineville. According to The Ouachita Citizen, Ouachita head coach Todd Garvin has not ruled out either player.

In their stead, quarterback Orlando Freemont and running back Chaunky Lewis stepped in, and Lewis certainly made the most of his opportunity: he rushed for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns on just 13 carries.

Luquet said Hahnville is planning to face both Sirmons and Jackson.

“They sat Week 10 to get as healthy as possible … we’ve prepared for the week with those two in our sights,” Luquet said. “(Sirmons) has impressive acceleration. His 0-to-60 is really, really good. You can have him bottled up and the next thing you know, he’s gone with that track speed of his.

“We need to tackle well. If you aren’t wrapping up and you’re letting him get into that second, third level of your defense, that’s not going to be a good night for you.”

Jackson directs the Lions’ veer-option offense with precision and smarts.

“If you key on Sirmons, Jackson can hit you,” said Luquet. “He has control of that offense and knows what they want to do. They are very patient and they do a great job blocking up front and moving the line of scrimmage. When teams aren’t sound tackling, that’s when they take advantage of you.”

Of course, the veer is enough of a rarity in today’s prep game that it presents a unique set of challenges in preparation. Hahnville has not faced a similar option-based offense since its playoff loss to Ruston in 2020.

“They take on that identity you see of teams up north with the big offensive line, running the option, power o … they mix it up with multiple guys working in multiple spots,” Luquet said. “This is the type of team that can be a tough matchup for us. We’re not as big up front as we’ve been in the past. We’ll have to do some things out of our comfort zone, taking on double teams and our linebackers are going to have to full and do a really good job closing gaps. This is going to be a game of wills – their move to move the line of scrimmage and our will to tackle them.”

Defensively, Luquet said the front four for Ouachita sets the tone. The Lions like to play a coverage heavy game with the front four taking the onus of pressuring the opposing passer. Defensive end Kendrick Cooley is a key part of that, one of the team’s defensive cornerstones.

 

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