Although the rivalry battle with Destrehan is over, Hahnville has not cleared the most difficult stretch of its schedule just yet.
The undefeated East St. John Wildcats (4-0, 1-0) are set to host the Tigers (1-3, 0-1) in Reserve this Friday night, with ESJ looking to extend what’s been a dominant stretch of play. Brandon Brown’s Wildcats have played with a fairly clear chip on their collective shoulder after a 2022 season that ended in a dramatic 21-20 quarterfinal loss to Destrehan, ESJ as close as anyone would be to ending what’s grown to a state-long winning streak at DHS.
ESJ edged out another River Parishes foe in St. James in the opening game of the season, a 41-40 victory that saw the Wildcats’ defense come up with a fourth and goal stop to seal the win.
The last three weeks have not been as close. Victories over Carver (44-0), Landry-Walker (59-0) and most recently a 48-14 win over Thibodaux to kick off District 7-5A play.
The name of the game, on both sides of the ball, is speed – speed for days. Dkhai Joseph and Koyal Gray can both race past a defense in a hurry, and both are part of a receiving corps with multiple players who run at a 4.5 clip or less in the 40-yard dash. Joseph and Gray each scored twice in the win over Thibodaux.
“At the end of the day, they are explosive,” said Hahnville head coach Daniel Luquet. “They have Joseph back, Gray … this is East St. John. They’re gonna have good playmakers on the outside … and they want to go vertical. They try to push that thing downfield – they want their band playing as fast as possible.”
At quarterback, the Tiger defense will have to prepare for a pair of passers in Lorenzo Zeno and Kairan Smith, both seniors.
“They’re similar players. It’s almost like, one is in and throws it deep six or seven times and when his arm gets tired, the next guy comes in and throws deep six or seven times. They both throw a good deep ball and it gets East St. John where they want to be – they want to score a lot in a short amount of time and put you under some pressure,” Luquet said.
Elijah Frank moved over from the defensive side of the ball to play running back and the offensive line is experienced.
Defensively, like all of Brown’s teams, the Wildcats fly around, flow to the ball and can lay a hit. defensive linemen Kyvan Fobb and Jamorian Zeno leads the way on that side of the ball.
Fobb Is a player Luquet said can quickly become a big problem for any offense.
“He’s phenomenal,” Luquet said. “This kid’s motor is so good and he’s quick. Around him, it’s the East St. John you’ve come to expect – they fly to the football and they’re good program guys. They’re fast all over the field and Coach Brown does a good job and has them playing well.”
Offensively, Luquet’s message has remained the same over the past few weeks: the Tigers simply must make strides on that side of the ball or wins will be very hard to come by.
There were sure to be growing pains this season, with not a lot of experience stepping onto the field from the 2022 edition of Hahnville. A player the Tigers have had to lean greatly upon, given that, has been running back and returning starter Calvin Smith. The junior tallied 86 yards and two touchdowns last week against Destrehan and has crossed the goal line six times on the year, impacting the game as both a rusher and receiver while shouldering a big workload.
Much was expected of Smith when he was coming up through the Hahnville system and he’s proven to be the latest in a long line of strong Tiger running backs.
“Last year he led us in rushing as a sophomore. This year, he’s been the focal point of the defensive attention,” said Luquet. “He’s the guy people try to stop. You see two or three guys hit him in the hole, even against a Destrehan, and the next thing you know he has five yards.”
He’s also shown that he has three-down skills, as Smith has shined as a receiver out the backfield and even downfield this year.
“Offenses in this day and age, it’s not about just turning around and handing it off 35 times. You need to be able to catch the ball,” Luquet said. “We need to find creative ways to get him the football and let his talent take over, because he’s our best player offensively.”
Coming off of last week’s 47-11 loss to Destrehan, it’s a tough draw to move straight to another powerful opponent in ESJ.
By the same token, however, it also can be looked at as an opportunity to quickly put last week’s loss aside for a young team trying to find its footing.
“Maybe I’m just optimistic,” Luquet said. “But I feel like if we can establish some things offensively and fix a few things defensively … at some point, playing the kind of teams we’ve played early on this season is going to benefit us. And if we can go to East St. John and beat them at their place, that’s something that would really catapult us to what we thought this season would be.”