After a second round game filled with heroic plays and a furious comeback, Hahnville finds itself headed to the quarterfinal round for the second straight season, with a chance to advance to its first state semifinal since 2005.
The Tigers have already pulled off one big road upset in the postseason during head coach Nick Saltaformaggio’s two-season tenure, when the then 12th seeded Tigers defeated Haughton 28-14 in 2014. The reward for that victory was a date with Destrehan in the quarterfinals.
The same reward could be in the cards this time around — Destrehan would be Hahnville’s semifinal opponent were both teams to win Friday night. But if Hahnville is to pull off the feat again, it must topple a Zachary team that boasts two wins over Dutchtown — including a 35-14 win over the Griffins last week to advance to the quarterfinals — and other notable victories over Catholic-Baton Rouge and Scotlandville.
Much like the Alexandria team Hahnville faced in the opening round of the postseason, the Broncos are one of the most consistent offensive teams in the state, scoring no less than 28 points in any game this season. Zachary’s spread attack averages 40 points per game, including 54 and 35 point efforts over the past two weeks.
Zachary has two wide receivers who have topped the 10 touchdown reception and 1,000 yard barriers this season in Doug Coleman and Terry Sullivan. In charge of getting them the ball is quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr., a Syracuse commitment who has topped 2,000 yards passing and 1,300 yards rushing.
Nobody has been able to solve the dual-threat problem Scott poses through two weeks of the postseason. He threw six touchdown passes and generated 253 yards through the air in the Broncos’ opening round win over Sulphur, then rushed for 176 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Dutchtown.
Zachary dominated last week’s game, taking a 21-0 halftime lead and was never seriously threatened. The Broncos rushed for more than 300 yards.
“Scott’s a great player,” Saltaformaggio said. “We’ve seen a lot of spread football teams this season and here’s another one. They’ve got three 300-pound kids up front, so a lot comes down to how we get off their blocks, what happens at the second level … their running back is a lot like the kid we faced at Thibodaux. He’s bigger, not quite as fast, but he can certainly play.”
While Scott has lit up the postseason stat sheet, Hahnville can counter with their own dominant force. Sophomore receiver/tailback Anthony Williams has generated over 700 all-purpose yards during the first two weeks of the postseason. In last week’s 55-33 win over St. Amant, he rushed for 201 yards on 10 carries to go along with 160 receiving yards and a 77-yard kickoff return.
“I’ve never seen anything like him, in all my years,” Saltaformaggio said. “As a sophomore, I mean … he’s the best football player in the area. There’s no doubt in my mind. In the second half, we put the ball in his hands. It’s about players, not plays, I like to say.”
One place Hahnville should have more of an advantage this week is in the kicking game. Last week, St. Amant kept Williams largely negated on returns with a combination of touchback boots and squib kicks. The Broncos aren’t as strong in that area.
“St. Amant’s kicking game was great,” Saltaformaggio said. “This week, that’s one place we should have the advantage.”
Mike Neal and Devonte Cravin are peaking as well. Neal, the Tigers’ senior quarterback, made a number of critical plays in Hahnville’s rally back from a 13-point first half deficit, including a thrilling touchdown pass to Cravin just before halftime that saw Neal scramble — seemingly forever — to buy time before launching a throw across the field to his wide open receiver. Neal accounted for five touchdowns in the win.
“That was the play of our season, no doubt about it,” Saltaformaggio said. “That was a whale of a throw. I don’t think people can fully appreciate how difficult a throw that was to make. Mike showed right there why he’s special. It’s why our season turned around, because he’s been making plays like that.
“He’s a true competitor. He’s a winner.”
Cravin hauled in a long catch to set that play up with just four seconds left in the second quarter.
“(Cravin) was a running back for three years, then we moved him to the slot,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s just gotten better and better and better each week. Chandler Freman and Dylan Crockett are both doing a really good job blocking on the outside that can be underappreciated, and Kevin Comardelle has done a real nice job for us at receiver as well. It’s a group that’s really come along.”
Saltaformaggio noted that while on the opposite side of the bracket 5A has seen plenty of upsets, things have held steady on the Tigers’ side. Top seed West Monroe was upset by No. 17 Pontchatoula, while No. 4 Byrd and No. 5 Scotlandville both fell prey to upsets by No. 12 Mandeville and No. 13 Landry-Walker, respectively. The highest possible seeds each advanced to the quarterfinals on the side of the bracket Hahnville and Destrehan fall on.
Speaking of … if Hahnville and Destrehan were both to win, those teams would face off in the semifinals next week, and the hype for that game would almost certainly be super-charged.
“We can’t look ahead to that,” Saltaformaggio said. “We’ve just got to take care of ourselves. We’re going on the road to play the two-seed, and this is the pivotal game for us. We reached the quarterfinals last year, and now it’s time to see if we can get over that hump.”