Though a veteran of the prep coaching game, Hahnville’s Nick Saltaformaggio doesn’t have to go back far to know the result of a spring game isn’t necessarily a sign of things to come.
“Two years ago, we got clobbered in the spring and we went to play for a state championship,” Saltaformaggio said. “Last year, we looked great and went 6-6.”
All that said, he’s also a realist: he knows his Tigers have some ground to make up this summer following its spring game with St. Augustine in Boutte Tuesday, which went the Purple Knights’ way, 35-21 in the timed scrimmage between the teams.
After work for the special teams units, then second and third team action early on, the two first teams played one another over two 15 minute halves, simulating game conditions.
St. Augustine quarterback Kendell Sampson Jr. was the day’s star, accounting for four touchdowns. Hahnville turned the ball over three times, which contributed to the Knights jumping ahead 28-7 early in the second half.
“You don’t want to make more of it than it is,” Saltaformaggio said. “Our kids competed well and played hard, I thought. (St. Augustine) has some real good football players … we won’t play anyone on our schedule better than that.”
But when the subject of Saltaformaggio’s talented young players, he also made it clear he expected improvement.
“They’ve gotta play better. Having talent and playing well are two different things,” he said.
On the first play of the timed scrimmage between the first teams, St. Augustine cornerback Edward Gilds III jumped a short route and intercepted Andrew Naquin, returning the pickoff for a touchdown to put the Purple Knights ahead 7-0.
Hahnville responded on a 40-yard touchdown run by Darryle Evans, seeing his first live action since injuring his knee last season and missing the Tigers’ stretch run.
He was eager to get back to action.
“It was tough (sitting out) … I knew I had to stay strong and support my teammates,” said Evans, a powerful rusher who started last season prior to his injury. “I’m just glad to be back. It feels good to be back.”
Knights passer Kendell Sampson Jr. started to heat up from there. He hit wideout Khi Mathieu on a quick screen and Mathieu got loose for a touchdown of more than 50 yards, pushing St. Augustine to an eventual 14-7 lead for the scrimmage’s unofficial halftime.
The Tigers lost a fumble to start the second half, and while the Knights did not return it for a score as it initially appeared – the runner was ruled to be down after recovery – another Sampson touchdown pass capped the drive to make it 21-7.
Hahnville’s next possession ended with its third turnover of the scrimmage on a sack and fumble, setting up St. Augustine at the Tigers’ 30. Sampson connected with receiver Kenneth Rivarde Jr. from there on a 30 yard score.
The Tigers regrouped from there and put together a pair of quality drives to end the day. Evans punched in a score from the 1 after strong runs by he and Trey LaBranch to get down there. Sampson scored on a draw to answer for St. Aug. T
To cap the day, the Tigers drove inside the St. Aug 5 once more, this time with Naquin connecting with wideout Corey Lorio on a 2-yard touchdown pass.
It was an up and down day for Naquin, who will be a junior next season. The turnovers came coupled with some strong downfield throws, and he led the scoring drives with poise.
“Naquin did some things better this time around, from where we were last spring, and some things were the same,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s still a sophomore, and we’ve had eight practices … a lot goes into it.”
The bottom line, the coach said, for his offense is to avoid the turnovers.
“You turn it over, you’ve always got problems,” Saltaformaggio said. “If we take care of the ball, we’ll be fine.”
As for a defense he’s cited high expectations for, one can expect changes. While he was tempered overall, Saltaformaggio said St. Augustine “exposed” some weaknesses to the point he said the Tigers may veer away from the 3-3-stack defense he’s been long known for.
“It’s been good to me for 10 years, but it’s not good right now,” he said. “So in the offseason, we’ll make some adjustments.”