The time is finally here.
Friday night marks the ever anticipated Battle on the River rivalry game as Destrehan (6-3, 3-2) hosts Hahnville (8-1, 5-0) in the final week of the regular season.
On the line for Hahnville is the outright District 7-5A championship. A loss could drop the Tigers into a potential tie with East St. John for the crown. A win would cement the Tigers with a high seed in the upcoming 5A playoffs.
For Destrehan, there is no district championship in the cards, but a win would be nonetheless very meaningful for reasons beyond parish bragging rights. After losing three of four games from Week 4 to Week 7, Destrehan has roared back to best two district teams decisively, and a win over a Hahnville team high in power points would go a long way toward seeding, as well as continuing to build a momentum surge into the postseason.
At its heart, though, this is Hahnville vs. Destrehan, a game with the state’s eyes upon it, an event that in many ways stands alone — while both teams will begin a hopeful march toward state championship honors next week with the start of the postseason, the unofficial St. Charles Parish championship carries a lot of weight as well.
If anyone dared sleep on the Destrehan program during its rare midseason swoon, don’t make the mistake of counting Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio among them.
“I don’t know how you ever could,” Saltaformaggio said. “In the six years I’ve been here, they’ve been to the Dome, they’ve been to two state semifinals. I guess sometimes people can take it for granted, but I don’t.”
After Hahnville fell to Jesuit last week, Saltaformaggio said Jesuit has built a culture of success at the heart of its program – “They beat us 100 years ago,” he quipped. “It’s how they prepare, year in and year out, every day of the week, that makes Jesuit who they are.” With Destrehan, he says the Wildcats’ program is another that accepts nothing less than the best effort on a daily basis.
“For as long as this rivalry has stood … we need to pull our weight,” Saltaformaggio said. “To me, a rivalry is when one team wins, then the other, then maybe three to one and then two to the other. Of late, this hasn’t been a rivalry. They’ve won the majority of them the past several years.
“I think this is the most evenly matched these teams have been in awhile, since I’ve been here at Hahnville. I think it’s time for Hahnville to reestablish ourselves and our identity in this ballgame. And shame on us if we don’t.”
Both teams feature quarterbacks establishing themselves, star running backs, quality lines, explosive receivers and sound back sevens. Both teams get it done on special teams. Both teams believe in establishing the run and stopping it in kind.
“These games are won up front,” Saltaformaggio said. “Destrehan’s a real challenge in that regard. They’re doing a real nice job blocking people. They’ve got a good defensive line and some really good play at linebacker. “
He sees a close game on the horizon, though he says his team has to get back to playing at its peak. While last week represented Hahnville’s first loss, Saltaformaggio believes the team hasn’t played its best ball for about a month.
“We’ve had a knack for getting talented teams who are playing their best on our schedule,” Saltaformaggio said. “Destrehan’s exactly that. They’ve found their footing. We need to be ready, because I don’t think we’ve been playing our best football. Against a Jesuit or a Destrehan, that gets you beat.”
Destrehan head coach Stephen Robicheaux hasn’t had three losses at this point in a season for quite awhile. But context and timing mean plenty, especially in November when it comes to prep football. The Wildcats team that decisively dispatched Thibodaux and Central Lafourche in consecutive weeks looks far different, and healthier, than the one that lost three of four prior contests.
Heading into the annual rivalry showdown, and the postseason that follows, that timing couldn’t be better.
“We’re excited where we are right now,” Robicheaux said. “Not concerning the losses, but the way we’re playing. Damarius (Jackson, DHS quarterback) is playing at a high level right now, and our defense has played pretty well throughout the whole year. We’ve got a tough challenge in Hahnville, all of that said. They’ve won eight so far and that isn’t by accident. They’ve put skins on the wall.”
Robicheaux agreed with Saltaformaggio that controlling the ball and tempo will be the critical aspect of Friday’s game, and that comes with being the more physical team up front. Who can accomplish that will be the victor, he believes.
For the Wildcats’ offense, finding that success will hinge on how successfully the team can block Adonis Friloux and the Hahnville defensive front.
“You have to get two hats on Adonis,” Robicheaux said. “He’s that special. You can’t really account for him with one guy. But you have to be creative, because he’s not the only one they have. Logan Brimmer’s done a great job. That group as a whole has been good across the board, and behind them, they have Pearsall, a stud in the middle at linebacker. He seems like he’s been there 20 years, he’s difficult.”
Robicheaux has been in the middle of this rivalry for years and says the only predictable aspect of it is that it’s completely unpredictable.
“You throw the records out,” he said. “Teams that should have won didn’t, teams that should have lost found a way to win. Games you see as a blowout end up closer than you’d think.”
It’s a special tradition, he added.
“There’s always the craziness, the hype that comes beforehand. But once it takes off, it’s about two programs who have had a lot of success facing off. St. Charles Parish puts on an awesome show every year with it. Players and coaches, we all know one another, and it makes it so much fun,” he said.
Saltaformaggio called it his favorite rivalry or series he’s been a part of as a head coach over the years.
“Because of how important it is to our school system, our parish, the people who graduated from this school and from their school … I understand the importance of this game,” he said. “And it’s time for Hahnville to put up.”
The one real point of disagreement about the game for the coaches came in terms of its timing, one week before the playoffs – the teams had faced off in the middle of the season in recent years.
“I don’t love having it right now,” Robicheaux said. “You’d kind of like to get it out of the way a few weeks earlier … the one thing is, beyond all the hype, it’s a really physical football game. You know that going in, and it’s right before the playoffs.”
Saltaformaggio felt that way before the season, but his thoughts have changed.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I would, but I really do (like having the game Week 10),” Saltaformaggio said. “Playing Jesuit a week ago gave us an idea of what we have to work on to get better. And playing these teams, a Jesuit then a Destrehan, it allows us to focus on the moment. There’s no looking ahead or time for a letdown.”