After struggling to a 1-3 start this season, the Hahnville Tigers won five of their final six games to finish 6-4 and share the district championship with the East St. John Wildcats. Their surge has also propelled them into the 5A state playoffs where they will travel to West Monroe to take on the fifth-ranked Rebels this Friday night.
Last Friday, the Tigers took down cross-parish rival Destrehan 34-3 in the final game of the regular season. Hahnville Head Coach Lou Valdin was very happy about the night that saw the Tigers defeat their rivals, win a district and make the playoffs.
“It was stressful early, but it ended up being a good night,” he said. “I’m really glad for the kids. When we were 1-3, they never gave up. They kept believing in the coaching staff and kept plugging away and working hard. And after the St. Aug game, we went on a run.”
As in previous weeks, the Tiger running game was a key to the victory with Travis Faucheaux rushing for 102 yards and a touchdown. But the play of quarterback Easton Melancon was the main component of the offense. He was named the MVP of the game by the Great American Rivalry Series, which featured the matchup. His two touchdown passes, along with a rushing touchdown gave him one of his biggest games of the season. With both aspects of the offense clicking on all cylinders, Valdin thinks the Tigers have peaked at the right time.
“With teams that advance to the playoffs, it’s not how you play in September, it’s how you play in October and November,” said Valdin. “I think we’re playing our best football right now. And we played as good as we could against Destrehan.”
But both the offense and defense will have their hands full with West Monroe on Friday.
The Rebels, after themselves struggling at the beginning of the season, rebounded from a 1-2 start to finish the season 8-2 and claim the fifth seed in the state playoffs. The Tigers know very well what it is like to face one of the top ranked teams, as they played against No. 2 Jesuit and No. 3 in 4A Lutcher on the road earlier this season. They lost both games, but they played each team very close for the majority of the game. Valdin feels like that will be beneficial on Friday, but is most worried about the long trek to West Monroe.
“What I’m most concerned about is how we handle the travel,” said Valdin. “I’m spending more time with travel arrangements this week, and leaving football to the assistants to make it as smooth a transition as possible. And we’re going into one of the most intimidating places to play in Louisiana. But our guys are used to playing in front of big crowds.”
The Rebels have been struggling with injuries the past few weeks. Last week, against Natchitoches Central, West Monroe was missing three defensive starters and their starting fullback. So, if those players are still unable to go this Friday, the Tigers may be able to seize an opportunity and catch a very good team while they are not at full strength. West Monroe runs the option in the Power-I formation, and Valdin says that the Rebel offense will be a challenge.
“We have to play mistake free,” he said. “I hope we’re able to contain them on the ground, because that’s what they like to do. Their offensive line is outstanding. And they have two good tailbacks. We’ve seen several big backs this year, so we know what we’re up against. Higgins and Ehret exposed us when their big back ran right at us, but we’ve been working hard on preventing that.”
The Rebel defense has been very tough as well, only allowing more than 21 points once this season. However, the Hahnville offense has only been kept under 21 points once this season. And for this game, Valdin will stick with what has brought his team this far: the running game.
“We have to be balanced,” he said. “Everything starts with the running game. If we can run the football, that opens everything up. Then, we’ll be able to throw play action, which slows the game down and buys time for our quarterback.”
The Rebels have lost just five games over the last five years and have reached the state championship game the past two years, winning it in 2009. But this is the first West Monroe team in recent memory to enter the playoffs with two losses in the regular season. Valdin knows that this game will be a tough matchup, but he is hopeful that the Tigers can come away with a victory and live to play next week.
“What I always tell them in the playoffs is that the enemy has no face,” said Valdin. “We don’t know them except the film we look at. We just have to play the best we can and hope it’s enough to win.”