It might just be a full house at Tiger Stadium Friday night when Destrehan visits Hahnville, a rivalry game that not only captures the imaginations of St. Charles Parish but also statewide and even national attention.
“It’s because of the two programs involved and the athletes who always come through,” Destrehan head coach Stephen Robicheaux said. “It means a lot to the community, the school district and it’s always important. The people around here are football fanatics who love to come out every Friday night … it’s something to look forward to every year, and I think that boils down to the tradition of both schools that we’re in the position we’re in now.”
Indeed, these teams have put on a show for everyone historically. It’s one game that no matter what the records are and what the teams’ prospects hold, both will put it all on the line for a victory on Friday night.
The winner of the Destrehan and Hahnville clash has more often than not gone on to secure their district championship in recent seasons. Over the years, greats like Ed Reed, Darius Reynaud, Laron Landry, Damaris Johnson — and many, many others — have gone on to have incredible success at the college and NFL level. To a man, most alums who played for either school will gladly recall a Destrehan/Hahnville game or the rivalry itself as one of their greatest athletic memories.
Robicheaux said with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the game, a lot comes down to which team can shut out the noise and best focus on the task at hand.
“Whoever can focus on the details is the one that’ll be successful,” Robicheaux said. “The distractions are obvious because of what this game presents, but it’s about who can handle it.”
Destrehan has been a popular pick to reach the Superdome this season in Class 5A, but suffered its first defeat last week against a talented John Ehret team, 37-35, to fall to 2-1.
That game represented what Robicheaux felt would be the toughest test for his offensive line thus far this season, due to Ehret’s size and ability up front. He said he was pleased with how his line answered the call in that one, but also said that another huge test was on tap this week. He did not hesitate to call the Hahnville defensive front seven the strength of the team, with defensive tackle Adonis Friloux — and major Division prospect — of particular concern.
How might his team deal with the problems Friloux presents?
“Throw it over his head, hopefully,” Robicheaux said with a chuckle. “That way you don’t have to deal with him. You do what you have to do to avoid someone’s best players. All three of their guys on the line can wreak havoc across the line of scrimmage.”
But don’t mistake that for Robicheaux turning away from the running game. Hahnville can expect a healthy dose of star running back John Emery and another big, tough runner and Division I prospect in Kyle Edwards.
When Hahnville’s offense takes the field, it will have a different look to it than earlier this season. Sophomore Andrew Naquin is expected to draw his second start after a starting debut at Brother Martin that saw its highs and lows.
But while Naquin is taking snaps and former quarterback Jha’Quan Jackson has moved back to wide receiver, where he began in the spring, Robicheaux said he expects to see Jackson at quarterback at times.
“When you have a quarterback who (specializes in) throwing it, you have that option to bring someone in and run the Wildcat, and we’ll see Jackson back there I know,” Robicheaux said. “He brings a different element that we have to be ready for.”
For Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio, the week is a tough one. He will serve the final game of a four-game suspension instituted by the LHSAA, and while every game he can’t be present for is tough on him he says, not being part of this rivalry and such an important game is particularly taxing.
“It’s horrible,” Saltaformaggio said. “The hardest part is watching something I care about, outside of my wife and kids, more than anything, and not being able to do anything to help them,” Saltaformaggio said.
That’s on game day, but one can be assured he’ll be out to maximize his role in practice and preparation during the week. Destrehan bested his Tiger teams in four straight games before Hahnville scored a 20-13 victory at Destrehan last season, which sparked an 11-game winning streak and trip to the 5A championship game.
As one might imagine, limiting Emery is the top priority for the Tigers. Saltaformaggio wouldn’t say “stop” Emery, though.
“I don’t think you can stop him,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’ll have everyone’s attention. But even as good as he is, what makes him so tough to slow down is the guys he has around him who can make plays. It makes him that much more dangerous.”
The distractions of the game may actually be a welcome distraction for Hahnville (1-2), who has had to deal with a tumultuous month with plenty of conversation revolving around almost anything but the game on the field.
“One of the things actually taking our mind off it is Destrehan,” Saltaformaggio said. “We’re reeling as a football program, we know that. It’s a good time to punch Hahnville if you’re gonna do it … we’re approaching (Destrehan) with the mindset that we can kind of reset things.”
One thing he believes is certain: defensively, the team will have to lift its game to its highest level so far this season, noting there have been too many breakdowns over the last two games.
“We’re not communicating and we’re having alignment issues,” Saltaformaggio said. “We go through these lulls and it’s something that’s really giving us problems.”
That takes precedence even more than usual not only because the Tigers are facing a high octane offense, but also because the Destrehan defense is a strong unit in and of itself, led by linebacker Alex Huszar. Mistakes are likely to be punished, as they were in last week’s 37-20 loss to Brother Martin.
“Alex is a real good player … their secondary is strong,” Saltaformaggio said. “We have to play a more disciplined game and get back to playing Hahnville football … Destrehan might be coming in licking their chops. If we can get back to being Hahnville, we can clean it up and it’ll be a great game. If not, then I don’t know.”