Hahnville must leap over hurdle of improving East St. John team

Dominique Curley is congratulated after scoring a Hahnville touchdown.

Longtime rivals jousting for postseason

Hahnville has finally been able to take a breath after consecutive strong performances in wins over Pearl River and Thibodaux, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers can relax by any means.

Indeed, Hahnville (3-4, 1-2) has turned around what looked like a lost season only a few weeks ago, but could well have to summon its best performance yet to emerge with a victory over visiting East St. John, a team Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio says is clearly better than its 2-5 record would indicate.

“That record is in no way representative of how good they really are,” he said. “They’ve played everyone very close. They’ve got very good players, especially at the skill positions. It’s gonna be a battle.”

East St. John (2-5, 1-3) started the season 2-2 but has been a bit snakebit in District 7-5A play. Following a 31-0 win over Central Lafourche, the Wildcats lost 7-6 to H.L. Bourgeois on a sloppy, rainy night; dropped a 35-34 slugfest against district co-leader Destrehan when the latter blocked a late extra point; and lost 33-12 to district co-leader Destrehan.

To reach the postseason, East St. John would almost certainly have to win out — and that means going through Hahnville. For Hahnville, it’s likewise as important if the Tigers hope to secure postseason position, but a victory coupled with two more to end the season could potentially lift Hahnville into the top 16 to host a playoff game.

HOW EAST ST. JOHN ATTACKS: The Wildcats spread you out, hammer the open spaces with their running backs and challenge you vertically with its athleticism and size at receiver.

“They’re not only athletic at receiver, but those guys catch the ball,” Saltaformaggio said of a receiving corps featuring Jarius Monroe, Hoxie Brown III and Duke Crosby.”They block up front and they can catch it, so they move the ball. With all that talent … we know we can’t get into a scoring match with anyone, and they kind of force teams to do that. That worries me a bit.”

The ringleader is quarterback Sean Shelby, whose strong performance in the team’s near win against Destrehan garnered attention. Shelby passed for over 300 yards and had four touchdown passes that night.

For Saltaformaggio, slowing down the ESJ offense is as much about the Hahnville offense as it is the Tigers defense.

“We have to run the ball and be turnover-free,” Saltaformaggio said. “We can’t give them extra possessions. We have to be clean in the kicking game, because it’ll be hard to shut these guys out.”

Defensively, Saltaformaggio says East St. John is as disciplined as he’s seen the team during his tenure at Hahnville, and what the Wildcats lack in defensive starpower, it makes up for through its players’ grasp of the system.

“They’re playing within a definitive scheme … they’re a 4-2-5 football team and they play it well,” Saltaformaggio said. “They’re much better defensively than they have been. I like their front, it’s tough.”

LAST SEASON: Hahnville recorded a rare shutout in Joe Keller Stadium, winning 27-0 on a night Pooka Williams racked up more than 300 yards from scrimmage with three touchdowns, and one where Khalil Mason intercepted two passes.

BOWLING 300: For two consecutive weeks, Hahnville has cleared the 300 yard barrier in the running column, both weeks led by tailback Brandon Comardelle.

Comardelle has rushed for 412 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries over the past two weeks, something that comes down to both an improving offensive line and Comardelle’s rapid emergence.

“We’ve just kept working to make ourselves better,” Comardelle said. “(After the Terrebonne game), we talked about how we know we’ll make mistakes, but we have to keep pushing back and move forward every time … our offensive line keep getting better and better each week, and it’s making a difference.”

It’s what Saltaformaggio likes to see.

“Brandon’s really becoming a very good running back, and our offensive line has gotten infinitely better,” Saltaformaggio said. “It’s the kind of football I like to play … run downhill, shorten the game, play good defense, be good in the kicking game, and you’ll win a lot of games.”

KEEPING THE STREAK ALIVE: Even through all the turmoil Hahnville has dealt with this season, a notable run is still intact: under Saltaformaggio in his five years as the team’s head coach, the Tigers are unbeaten in the second half of the regular season, a perfect 22-0 in Weeks 6-10.

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