Those making their way to Tiger Stadium in Boutte Friday night will get treated to the kind of playoff showdown fans dream of when eyeing up their bracket: a rematch of the Class 5A championship game.
It’s the kind of showdown not often found this early in the postseason, but it’s exactly what Round Two yields this year as No. 6 Zachary travels to No. 22 Hahnville to face off a little less than a year after the two matched up at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a game Zachary won 34-14.
The Broncos (9-2) have been something of a nemesis for Hahnville (6-5), between their victory in that game and also in 2015, when Zachary hosted the Tigers and won 55-27 behind their then-star quarterback Lindsey Scott.
“We’re gonna have a huge crowd, and we’re all excited to host this one,” Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio said. “I think they’re very similar to the team we faced last year. A lot of those guys returning played in that championship game, especially on defense. I think we’re a little bigger and stronger than we were last year.”
Both teams were popular preseason picks to make potential repeat runs to the Superdome. Both teams appear to be among the best teams in 5A at this point in the season — but these teams took very different paths to this point.
Following the controversial LHSAA ruling that starting quarterback and transfer Andrew Robison would be ineligible and Saltaformaggio suspended for the season’s first four games. The Tigers struggled offensively and slumped to a 1-4 start. The second half of the season saw Hahnville rally to win four of its last five games, however, and the Tigers had a very different look in the final week of the season: Robison was ruled eligible that week and was sharp in his return, adding a totally new dimension to the HHS attack. It was fully on display last week as Hahnville made quick work of No. 11 Walker, 35-9, in the opening round of the postseason.
Zachary took a more linear path to this game. Outside of losses to Catholic-Baton Rouge and University Lab, the Broncos have been largely dominant through the rest of their schedule, earning each of their nine wins by two touchdowns or more. They turned up the heat late in their schedule, scoring 49, 62, 28, 45 and 42 points en route to winning by margins of 28 or more, including last week’s 42-17 opening round win over Sulphur.
The Broncos defensive speed was what stood out more than anything last season, and Saltaformaggio sees little difference on that side of the ball.
“A lot of those guys are back, and a lot of those guys are gonna be playing on Saturdays real soon,” he said.
Up front, end Caleb Jackson and tackle Dylan Frank set the tone for Zachary. Linebackers Wes Brady and Maverick McClure patrol the middle at linebacker, and defensive back Sean Burrell is the leading playmaker in the secondary.
“All of those guys are gonna be playing at the next level,” Saltaformaggio said.
Offensively, Zachary is keyed by quarterback Keilon Brown, who started last year’s championship game as a sophomore.
“They’ll go as far as he takes them, offensively,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s a great player with tremendous speed and good size … he’s obviously a special player. There are some things we’ll have to do to defend him that are gonna take us a little out of our comfort zone. But the big thing is we’ve faced him and we know who he is and what he can do. That doesn’t mean we can stop him, but it does help.”
Among his top surrounding weapons are receivers Christopher Hilton, Chandler Whitfield, Kriston Muse and running back Kyle Landry.
DEFENSE ON THE ATTACK: With the Tigers’ offense showing proficiency both on the ground and through the air upon Robison’s return, it’s provided a big boost to the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers have allowed just nine total points over the past two games.
“It definitely changes your mentality as far as calling plays (when Hahnville is scoring quickly),” Saltaformaggio said. “We know if we give up 14 points, we still have a chance to win, where before it might have put us in a tough spot. It changes the way we call defenses on the field and the way we game plan, and it’s not as taxing on the players where you have to sit there and say, ‘We’ve gotta shut ‘em out.’”