When Nick Saltaformaggio looks across the field at Tiger Stadium this Friday night, it might feel a bit surreal at first.
The Hahnville head coach will lead his No. 12 seeded Tigers against the No. 21 seeded Chalmette Owls, where Saltaformaggio served as head coach 15 years ago. Saltaformaggio led the Owls to an unbeaten regular season before moving on to East Jefferson and then to Hahnville, and he has many fond memories of his time there.
“It was a special place for me, and always will be,” Saltaformaggio said. “I’ll always be indebted to Mr. Warner, the principal at Chalmette, because he’s the man who resurrected my coaching career in the late 90s, when I was down and out.”
But while the draw set the stage for his first postseason matchup against his former school, he did not spend much time reminiscing about his time spent there. This week, Chalmette represents one thing above all else for Saltaformaggio: an obstacle his team must overcome to keep alive the dream of bringing the 5A state championship home to Hahnville.
Both teams are 8-2 this season. Chalmette rides in with the checkmark in the momentum column between the teams, winners of five straight and six of the past seven. Its only loss in that span came to John Ehret, 35-34, on Oct. 4.
Hahnville is attempting to get back to peak level, meanwhile, after consecutive losses to end the season. Both came to quality teams in the form of Jesuit and Destrehan.
Turning the page on the Destrehan loss in particular, 23-21 last week, is among Hahnville’s challenges this week as it prepares for Chalmette.
“We can’t afford to sulk,” Saltaformaggio said. “We came into this week in a funk, and hey, you expect it. Losing to Destrehan should hurt. We were 8-2 after the game, district co-champions, but you’d have almost thought we were 2-8 to be in our locker room. It hurts, we’ve struggled with it. But as I keep telling them, there’s no tomorrow. We have to move on.”
Chalmette operates a diverse ball-control offense, working from the Wing-T under center on one set of downs and out of the shotgun spread on another.
“You really have to prepare for four different offenses,” Saltaformaggio said. “No matter what they come out in, though, we’ll have to tackle and align properly. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Running backs Martez Whidby and Michael Williams, quarterback Joshua Taylor and wide receiver Teryan Nelson are the go-to players for the Owls. Saltaformaggio sees a team establishing an identity as a power-running unit primarily, which should be a familiar sight after facing powerful rushing attacks over the past two weeks.
Defensively, Chalmette operates out of a 3-4 base. Defensive end Sean Herbert is the team’s rock on that side of the ball and keys a disruptive front.
Under coach Jason Tucker, the Owls have been a solid and ascending program. The team’s only district losses since 2012 have been to either Ehret or Landry-Walker, perennial power programs. The Owls went 6-5 in 2018 before making a leap in its win total this season.
In terms of how Hahnville will attack the Owls, Saltaformaggio did not make it a secret: Chalmette can expect to see a healthy serving of running backs Darryle Evans and Trey Labranch. Saltaformaggio said the Tigers got away from their identity of being a run-first team against Jesuit and Destrehan, and he believes it proved a costly mistake.
“Sometimes, you learn the hard way. You hate to lose, but more than that I was most upset we didn’t throw our best punch against Destrehan,” Saltaformaggio said. “We have to play physical at the line, run Darryle, run Trey, run Corey Lorio and Jerry Spencer on the sweep. We’ve got to run to win. We have to keep pounding it. If you’re gonna win in the playoffs, you’d better throw your best punch.”