Hahnville prepares to roll down Airline Highway and into Reserve to face a longtime rival this Friday night, as River Parish rival East St. John welcomes the Tigers to town for a District 7-5A showdown.
Beyond their home region, the teams have a common bond from last season: they finished tied atop district play and shared the 7-5A championship. While many players have departed from each side since last season, there may still be a bit of a score to settle.
“We were co-champs last year and beat them over here, so they may have some unfinished business with us, I guess you could say,” said Hahnville head coach Daniel Luquet.
Indeed, Hahnville’s defense led the way to a 21-0 victory over ESJ in Boutte last year. But East St. John has long been a dangerous foe. Two years ago, Brown led East St. John to one of the pivotal victories of his first season as coach, a 21-7 win at Tiger Stadium. It was the lone loss to ESJ of the Nick Saltaformaggio era at Hahnville. The Tigers controlled the rivalry for the better part of the past decade, but ESJ established an upper hand before that: the Wildcats bested Hahnville in 2013, 2011, 2010, 2008 and – famously – in a six overtime slugfest in 2007.
At Joe Keller Memorial Stadium, ESJ’s home field, things rarely come easy for the opposition.
“You’re never comfortable going to a place like East St. John that you’ll go in and get a win,” Luquet said. “There’s nothing comfortable about playing them because of what they bring both athletically and as a coaching staff.”
This season, each team enters with an unblemished 2-0 record. For the Wildcats’ part, ESJ’s downed Sophie B. Wright, 32-26, in the first week and H.L. Bourgeois, 34-20, in its most recent contest last week.
The Wildcats are in their third season under head coach Brandon Brown, an alumnus at East St. John who has guided a turnaround of the program over the past two seasons, taking the Wildcats to marks of 5-6 and then 9-3. Last season, ESJ upended No. 9 Central in the Class 5A playoffs before falling in round two to Airline.
“They’re a well-coached football team,” said Luquet, looking to push his record at Hahnville to 3-0 in his first season leading the program. “Coach Brown has them going in the right direction. Anytime Hahnville and East St. John hook up, it can turn into something special.”
Offensively, East St. John looks to spread out the defense and stretch the field vertically, while working an option run game underneath keyed by quarterback Marcus Jackson.
“He’s a big kid who’s getting better and better at throwing the football,” Luquet said. “They’re not afraid to run the option with him, and he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder pads in front of his body and run you over. He’s a physical player.”
Wide receivers Kylon Harris and Kevon Breaux are dangerous weapons that make it difficult to key on the Wildcats’ backfield.
Defensively, there’s trouble on both sides of the line: Welland Williams is a physically dominant defensive end at 6’1 and 280 pounds, while Jackie Marshall (6’3, 235 lbs.) can create all kinds of problems with his speed and length off the edge. Both are returning starters from last season, and they take pressure off an ESJ secondary that’s establishing several new faces in its starting lineup.
“They’re strong, physical and they try to bottle everything up inside and force you into the linebackers and secondary,” said Luquet. “When you have guys like that up front, it really makes you speed up what you do offensively.”
Across the board, speed is the name of the game for the Wildcats, which is no new thing for this program.
“They can run with you and that allows them to do certain things, like play press coverage and playing their linebackers a little deeper,” said Luquet. “They do a great job with schematics and playing to their strengths. Their skill guys can move and they will spread you out. That’s always the case at East St. John. They believe in their guys, know they can run and do things that fit their skillset.
“It’s always hard to take a ride down there on Airline Hwy., but it’s a task we can’t wait for.”