Daniel Luquet chuckled as he recalled a sign he saw while driving Friday.
“It said, ‘St. Charles Parish Strong – until gametime,’” said the Hahnville head football coach. “Then for two and a half to three hours, everyone’s a Hahnville fan or a Destrehan fan. And then when it’s over, everyone’s back together.”
Luquet spoke less than 24 hours before he was to lead his Tigers into Tiger Stadium at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon to face off with the archrival Destrehan Wildcats in a season-opening game that was no guarantee to happen just over a week ago. The destruction of Hurricane Ida put football on the backburner for everyone, but as the St. Charles Parish community continues to rebuild, Saturday’s game represents a chance to, for at least a little while, forget about the pressures of all of it.
This was to be Week 4 of the regular season for the two teams, but as a season-opener following an unprecedented disaster, it seems to mean that much more.
“This is about a lot more than just a football game,” Luquet said. “It’s a chance for the people of our community to get away for three hours and watch a nephew, or a son, or a cousin or neighbor out on the field. We talk with our players about how football can be an avenue to get away from whatever tough circumstances you have going on in your life. Hopefully this can provide that for everyone in the stands as well.”
For Luquet and Destrehan head coach Marcus Scott, this season is the second as head coach for each man with his respective program. The year was expected to be their first chance to lead a team into the season following a ‘normal’ offseason. Instead, for the second time in two years, the teams will begin a season later than expected, following a time of doubt that it would ever happen at all.
Scott says while that may be the case, all he feels is gratitude.
“We’re so happy to have the opportunity to play,” Scott said. “You really didn’t know what was going to happen, given all of the destruction we suffered here. A lot of hard work by the school administration, the district, has given us the chance to pull this day together. Hopefully it’s going to be really good for the community.”
He believes it will be worth the wait, but he added the delay wasn’t something he’d call stressful, simply because so much else was going on.
“It wasn’t tough from the standpoint of, the first thing you think of is if your kids are OK, are their families OK … then you have your family to think about, same for everyone on your staff,” Scott said. “So, it was always a situation where that was the No. 1 priority. Once you get to a point where everyone is secure enough to return, then you start looking for those answers (as to when the season would start).”
In a rivalry that has seemingly experienced everything over the years, Saturday’s clash represents a few firsts. Luquet said it’s believed this is the first-time the two schools have ever faced one another to begin a season – even in years where the teams did not share a district, the game was never the first on the schedule.
It’s also thought to be the first time the teams have played one another outside of a Friday night. The game was initially scheduled to be played on Friday, but it was moved to Saturday afternoon as there are still areas of St. Charles Parish without power – though Tiger Stadium is powered up again, Luquet said the move was made to avoid people having to leave the stadium and return to those darkened areas at night.
“It’s a chance for people to come out and still get back to do what they need to do by nightfall,” he said.
Both coaches said the players had excitement this week in preparation for the game. Preparing for the game itself, while also rounding into a cohesive unit again after being weeks apart, brings obvious challenges for each team, but Luquet said the sense of normalcy the past several days have brought has far overshadowed those hurdles.
“It really isn’t about regrouping to play Destrehan. It’s been about getting our kids back together, seeing who needs help with this or that … not everyone is back, and that’s OK,” Luquet said. “This isn’t mandatory. A couple of seniors I’ve talked to the past few days, they just have nowhere to go right now. They want to get back, but their families have to have a situation they’re comfortable returning to. And until you have that, you need to stay until you do.
“We’re a family. We’re going to take care of each other first and worry about everything else after that.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is that this will be the District 7-5A opener for the two teams, as it was scheduled to be. History has shown this game typically looms large in who eventually wears the district crown when the season concludes.
“I expect a tough game as usual,” said Scott. “You don’t have to worry (in this game) about the effort, because both sides will compete. They always represent the community the right way. A lot of relatives will be playing for the people in the stands. These kids have grown up around each other.
“The guys have been in good spirits, just enjoying being around each other out here. Everyone’s been getting back into it, and that’s a good thing.”
As the community prepares to come together for the battle, Luquet said he expects this game will yield an atmosphere that won’t soon be forgotten.
“Get there early, because this is going to be an exciting day,” Luquet said. “We have barricades all over the place. I think this will be one of the biggest crowds that, maybe, there’s ever been. And these kids deserve it. They deserve the chance to be able to play in front of that kind of crowd and I’m excited for them.”