With the game on the line, Hahnville’s Anthony Williams took the ball on a pitch and looked for daylight, but none was there – Acadiana had sniffed the play out and the Rams had him corralled.
And then they didn't.
The senior cut back, found a crease and plowed through for a game-winning two-point conversion as Hahnville earned a thrilling 43-42 Class 5A semifinal victory at Acadiana in overtime, propelling the Tigers to their first state championship game since 2003.
Hahnville (12-2) will play Zachary (12-2) in that championship game. Zachary defeated West Monroe 29-27 to advance Friday night.
Known for his long runs and splash plays, the senior nicknamed “Pooka” may have cemented that two-point run as the signature play of his decorated prep career – it was only three yards, but may as well have been from Lafayette to Poydras Street.
“All I was thinking about was getting in the endzone,” Williams said. “They knew exactly where I was going. They sent the blitz. Once they sent that, I read the blitz and I cut back, put my head down and cut the ball upfield.”
With the win, the Tigers snapped Acadiana's 28-game win streak in home playoff games. It was the first postseason home loss of AHS coach Ted Davidson's tenure, dating back to 2004.
Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio will be back to the Superdome for the first time since 2013, when he led East Jefferson to its first-ever state championship.
But after watching his Tigers fight back, he said Friday night represented a new high for his career.
“I won the state championship four years ago … this is the greatest victory of my life, right here,” Saltaformaggio said. “So what does that tell you? It's better than the state championship.”
He said the flow of the game dictated the call to go for two and the win in overtime.
“We couldn't stop them,” Saltaformaggio said. “We settled in a bit … we decided we came here to win. We faked a punt, we stole a possession on a kickoff. So, what the heck? Let's go for it.”
Having Williams didn't hurt.
“I just know when he has ball in his hands, that you’ve gotta defend all 53 and a third,” Saltaformaggio said. “I’ll take him with those odds any day of the week.”
The Tigers trailed 21-7 at one point and 28-14 at halftime, but rallied back to force overtime on Jha'Quan Jackson's game-tying touchdown run.
After a breakneck scoring pace in the second and third quarters, neither team put points on the board in the fourth. Acadiana (12-2) took the ball first in overtime and scored on Jaylon Borel's 6-yard quarterback keeper to go ahead 42-35.
It took just one play for Williams to answer and pull his team within one, rushing for a 10-yard touchdown. Then the Tigers called timeout before making the fateful decision to end the game right there by attempting a two-point conversion.
Williams scored four touchdowns to bring his postseason total to 14. Michael Gray also scored on a kickoff return for Hahnville.
It was Hahnville's 11th straight victory.
Williams kicked off the rally by taking the second half kickoff 99-yards for a touchdown, cutting Acadiana's lead in half.
The Wreckin Rams answered on a 1-yard Borel keeper, but Hahnville's specialists weren't done yet; Acadiana kicked away from Williams but not out of danger, as Mike Gray's 87-yard return touchdown made it 35-28 with 8:25 left to play. The Tigers came up with a needed defensive stop, in part thanks to a timely Lyncoy Reynaud sack, then drove to tie the game on Jackson's keeper.
Acadiana led 14-0 early in the second quarter when Hahnville got on the board for the first time on a Williams 3-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7.
Acadiana fired back immediately, scoring on Dillon Monette's 64-yard run to make it 21-7.
Facing a 4th down and 1 from its own 40, the Tigers took their first big gamble of the night, calling a fake punt. Punter Dalton Melancon rolled for 26 yards, eventually leading to Williams' second 3-yard score to make it 21-14. Acadiana drove and scored on another run, this one a 2-yarder by Kablen Shelvin, to make it 28-14 at halftime.
Williams finished with 24 carries for 212 yards to lead Hahnville. Jackson gained 36 yards on 10 carries.
It was yet another dominant rushing effort in a season of them for the Tigers. One more might just result in a state championship.
“This means a lot, man,” said Hahnville offensive tackle Larry Dixon. “All I've wanted to do is help bring Hahnville back to its former glory. 2003 they were in the Dome. I just wanted to help bring it back where it's supposed to be, and that's where it's supposed to be.”