For the second straight season, Hahnville will climb aboard a bus for a long road trip up north for its first playoff game, the No. 21 seeded Tigers set to face No. 12 Benton – though about a week ago, there were no thoughts there would be a road trip at all for Hahnville this time around.
Last week, news broke that De La Salle, which Hahnville defeated earlier this season in a non-district battle, would have to forfeit its first six games of the season, which voided four victories and left a team that was 5-2 with a 1-6 record.
That directly affected Hahnville’s placement in the 5A field of 32. The power point boost garnered from the De La Salle win was severely weakened, and when the smoke cleared the Tigers dropped 10 spots, from well inside the top 16 needed to host a playoff game into the 20s, ensuring the team’s first game would be on the road.
“We can be mad at it all we want, but we have a game to play,” Hahnville coach Daniel Luquet said following the news last week. “And I told my guys, it doesn’t matter where we go, because when Hahnville shows up, they better be ready to play, because we coming.”
Luquet called it a tough break for his team, which rallied back from an 0-2 start to earn what the team thought would be the right to host a game.
“When we played De La Salle, that was a 5-2 team. So (the forfeits) should affect them and where they sit, and who plays them after. But it shouldn’t affect the teams who played them before,” Luquet said. “It stinks for my kids, our community, our band … it was a playoff game we worked our tail off for, and it was taken away from us without us having any say.”
But this week, Luquet’s focus has shifted completely to a Benton team that is hosting its first postseason game as a 5A school – it joined those ranks three years ago. And if Hahnville wins here, it will indeed host that playoff game it fought hard for. The winner of the game will advance to face the winner of No. 5 Ruston and No. 28 Covington. Were Hahnville to win on Friday, it will host in round two regardless of who wins at Ruston.
Benton went 7-3 in the regular season. Hailing from a tough district, all three Benton losses came to playoff teams, including No. 2 seeded Captain Shreve. It has won three games in a row and bounced back after a midseason lull that saw the team lose three of four in late September-early October.
“That’s a rough district full of playoff teams,” said Luquet. “They’re well-coached and understand who they are and what their identity is. We can’t afford to give them additional opportunities because if you make mistakes, if you turn it over or you aren’t where you’re supposed to be on defense, they’ll take advantage.”
Gray Walters commands the offense at quarterback, while Greg Manning is a multipurpose threat who accounted for two touchdowns – one by reception, one on the ground – from the running back spot. Wide receiver Pearce Russell also caught a touchdown in the team’s 35-16 win over Natchitoches Central on Friday.
“(Walters) is really good. He gets rid of it pretty quickly … on the third step, he knows where he’s going with it,” said Luquet. “He has a strong grasp of what they’re trying to do within their gameplan each week. They’re going to run power at you and do it out of all formations. (Russell) is their go-to guy, and he has really good hands.”
It looks to be a strength-on-strength matchup of a Benton offense that has scored 40 points or more five times this season with a Hahnville defense that has allowed 29 points – in total – over its last six games combined.
Hahnville will be healthier this week. Defensive back Alavan Sam returns to play for the first time all season, while wide receiver Troy Kendrick and running back K’Jon Smith are back after each missed the past two games.
Luquet believes his team is ready for the trip, and that his defense is up for the challenge of slowing a high-scoring offense.
“Physicality travels,” Luquet said. “Speed travels. Our defense is a fast, physical unit … we talk about it, that you leave every game and make sure that team you played feels it the next morning. You make sure they feel that they played Hahnville High School. And our defense has really thrived with that.”