When Covington and Hahnville faced off in the first round of the 2016 Class 5A playoffs, the No. 25 seeded Lions visited Tiger Stadium as an underdog to the No. 8 seed Tigers. HHS emerged with a 31-17 victory and moved on to round two. So, as the two now-familiar foes are set to match up again this Friday night’s quarterfinal matchup, there are some clear differences to note: there’s more on the line this time and the No. 2 Lions (12-0) enter as the higher seed to the No. 10 Tigers (10-2). But one key point remains the same: like last season, this game will be played at Tiger Stadium, the reward that comes with the dramatic road victory Hahnville scored last week at No. 7 Ruston.
It marks the third quarterfinal Hahnville has qualified for in the four years Nick Saltaformaggio has been the Tigers’ head coach — and will be the first played at Hahnville among those games.
“No doubt it’s a special thing and it marks the progression of our program over the four years we’ve been here,” Saltaformaggio said. “We were 9-3, 9-4, 9-3, and now 10-2. Beating Destrehan was a hump we had to get over, and so was winning the district championship. Now we’re looking to take another step this week.”
Saltaformaggio recalled earlier in the postseason that the Tigers’ game with Covington (12-0) last year was extremely taxing physically. He expects no different this time around.
“We’ve been going through a meat grinder,” Saltaformaggio said. “Ruston was very physical, and our district was very physical. This is going to be the same deal and if we do win this week, the two teams we might play next are option teams. It’s physicality that’s gotten us here and it’s gonna be physicality that will get us through it.”
The game showcases two of the state’s premier running backs and running games, starring Hahnville’s Anthony Williams and Covington’s Devin Brumfield.
The two go about the business of generating yardage in different ways, but both are undeniably effective. Brumfield, a senior who has rushed for more than 6,000 yards in his career with the Lions, is 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds and his game is power. Williams, a 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, boasts blazing speed and elite quickness. And both are virtually impossible to take down one-on-one.
“I know this is being billed as the two best running backs in the state on the field … sometimes, all that hype is just that, hype. But this time, it’s pretty accurate. These are the two best running backs out there, and they run behind very good offensive lines.”
Saltaformaggio evoked an image quite familiar to New Orleans Saints fans when comparing the two backs.
“It’s the difference between Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara,” Saltaformaggio said of the two Saints rushers enjoying prolific seasons. Brumfield is a physical, big, wide body like Ingram. Anthony’s obviously like a Kamara-type who can score in a hiccup.”
But while committing heavy resources to stopping Brumfield would be ideal, Saltaformaggio said Covington presents a “pick your poison” situation: quarterback Joshua Alfaro is a proficient passer and his top receivers Kejohn Batiste and Elgin Bell, demand extra attention in their own right.
“If we have to play an eight-man box, it could be kind of rough for us because of their ability at wide receiver,” Saltaformaggio said. “Their quarterback play is special. Alfaro is an outstanding football player and they run a very good scheme. They’re real good with their RPO (run-pass option) game. We have to be able to control Alfaro.”
Williams, meanwhile, clearly has had no interest in allowing his prep career to close prematurely. The senior has rushed for more than 300 yards in each of his first two playoff games and has scored eight total touchdowns.
That’s a first for Saltaformaggio.
“I’ve never had anyone do that, and certainly not the way he did it or against that caliber of competition,” Saltaformaggio said. “Ruston was the best team we’ve played this year. That’s a superior team and for him to do what he did on a night we had no other offensive answers … on the road, in that environment, it’s incredibly special. There’s nobody better in the state. There’s just not.”
The biggest improvement he sees in Covington from 2016 to 2017 is it’s simply a more seasoned team, with 36 seniors on the roster.
“Those guys have been in it together for four years,” Saltaformaggio said. “I just think you have that senior leadership where every night, every day of practicing, they know it could be their last time putting that Covington helmet on. It’s what drives them and I think, actually, that’s what’s motivating our guys, too.”