The passion for football shared by the people of St. Charles Parish is known across the state, as is the rich tradition of winning its high school teams have established. Together, Hahnville and Destrehan high schools have combined for 11 state championship seasons.
Seventy years ago, on back to back days, the two programs marched into history together and sparked that legacy, each winning its first 11 on 11 state football championship in 1949.
Hahnville earned the Class B championship on a Friday and then Destrehan captured Class A honors the following day. There would be several other titles, but there could never be another first for each school.
The 1949 Tigers went unbeaten that season, and on top of that, allowed just six points the entire regular season.
“Coach was so mad that we allowed that one score,” said Erwin “Cookie” Gomez, 88, who earned a state championship ring as a member of the ’49 Tigers. “We beat what’s now known as E.D. White 40-6 that day. The touchdown came late, but he wanted us to go the whole way with no points allowed.”
Hahnville was dominant, indeed, that year. That was especially impressive considering the football program at the school started just three years prior, in 1946.
“Most of us had played CYO football prior to that,” said Gomez, a quarterback and running back on the team. “We had some really good football players. I’d say at least five guys went on to earn football scholarships.”
The ’49 Tigers had seven LSWA All-State selections, including defensive end Matt Montz, offensive tackle Al Robicheaux, offensive guards Joe Matis and Gail Oubre, center Roy Ford, quarterback Roland Kinder and halfback Larry Troxler.
As one might expect given the presence of four offensive linemen on the all-state team, the Tigers imposed their will on the opposition.
Troxler, Gomez said, was the centerpiece of the offense.
“He probably represented the nucleus of our whole team,” Gomez said. “He was our Pooka Williams. He played ball at Southeastern. He wasn’t a big guy, but he was fast, a really good player.”
The Tigers secured the Class B championship by besting Tallulah 19-7 in a game played at Lutcher High School.
A day after Hahnville earned that Class B championship, Destrehan squared off with DeQuincy to decide Class A.
Things didn’t look promising early on. DeQuincy forced a fumble on the opening kickoff, then scored on its very first play from scrimmage.
“They had a back by the name of Perkins … on the very first play, he passed between Russell Rebowe and I and scored a touchdown,” said James Poche, who played fullback and linebacker for the Wildcats. “He told me, ‘They’re gonna beat the hell out of us.’ And I said, ‘Oh no, they’re not gonna beat us!’ And that was the only score they made.
“(Troxler) probably represented the nucleus of our whole team. He was our Pooka Williams.” — “Cookie” Gomez
“We played a dominant game from there.”
Indeed, Destrehan earned the first of the school’s four state championships that year, taking a 14-6 victory.
Like Hahnville, the football program was in a relatively young state, at least as people know it today: the school began playing 11 on 11 football in 1946, though it had earned state championship honors in six on six competition – Poche’s brother, in fact, helped secure state honors in 1941, in a game played on a historic landmark of a day: Dec. 7, 1941, the day of Pearl Harbor.
In 1948, Destrehan lost just once, to Reserve and its star rusher Leroy Labat, though the Wildcats limited Labat on that day.
Poche said the ’49 Wildcats were a special group in part because of their toughness.
“We were all born during the Great Depression,” Poche said. “I remember having to work in a field … I was a man at 12 years old, and the same was true of my teammates … We had a unique combination of speed and strength, what I call a natural strong group.”
Poche was an All-State performer at fullback—nicknamed “The Big Train” — as was Rebowe at defensive end. Rusher Winfield Hotard was known for his speed and big play ability. Quarterback Barry Bleakley was a smart player who Poche said was a great fit for head coach Vane Wilson’s versatile offense.
For Poche’s money, he said Wilson was the best coach the region has ever seen.
“We were changing plays at the line, and Barry was a really smart quarterback. Our defense was strong. All 11 guys were really good players, and we proved it that year,” Poche said.
Of course, as widely known as the great football tradition of the programs is the legendary rivalry between the two schools. That, too, saw a chapter written in 1949.
Both champions to be, Hahnville and Destrehan faced off during the regular season.
So you’re of course wondering … who won the game?
It was – as Gomez was happy to point out – Hahnville, 37-0 winners over Destrehan.
“We considered ourselves the Class A and B champion, unofficially,” Gomez said with a chuckle. “One of those things we like to mention, given the rivalry.”
But the members of both teams certainly share a distinction to be proud of, the trailblazers of a powerful tradition that’s only become stronger over the years.