In the days leading up to his first meeting with parish rival Breaux Bridge, first-year St. Martinville coach Vincent Derouen quickly learned about the game’s significance.

“There had been 50 to 80 people at practice every day since Sunday,” Derouen said. “I found out we hadn’t won in a long time, maybe since 2002-03. It’s something they’re really into. They’re excited, and I think the kids are also.”

Not only are they eager about the renewal of the series, but equally enthusiastic about the progress St. Martinville has shown under Derouen, taking a 3-2 record into Thursday’s District 5-4A opener at Breaux Bridge (3-2) at 7 p.m.

“That’s what we wanted to do, and the kids have been working hard,” said Derouen, who inherited a 1-9 team from a year ago. “The staff’s done a good job of putting them in place. With a little luck, and if the ball bounces our way a little, and we play sound football, this could make for a good game.”

St. Martinville-Breaux Bridge highlights the start of district play Thursday with Carencro (3-2) traveling to Carencro (0-5) in 4-4A, Berwick (2-3, 1-1) visiting Patterson (3-2, 1-0) in 8-3A, while Catholic-New Iberia (3-2, 2-0) hosts Loreauville (4-1, 1-1) in 5-2A.

“Coach Derouen’s a good coach and them hiring him really helped,” Breaux Bridge coach Paul Broussard said. “They’re playing a whole lot better; they look a whole lot more confident. It’s a parish game, and we always have our hands full no matter what their record is.”

Breaux Bridge sandwiched a 14-7 loss in the final minute to Teurlings Catholic with dramatic road wins over Rayne (21-20) and Carencro (17-14).

Quarterback Drake Guidry has completed 36 of 71 passes for 332 yards for a touchdown.

Broussard said his Tigers have opted for a two-back set in recent weeks with Daniel Lee (20-263, 4 TDs) leading the way. Lee’s also the team’s leading receiver with 14 catches for 184 yards.

“Hopefully our offense is starting to come around,” Broussard said. “Things look a lot better over the last couple of weeks. We’re moving the ball a bit and controlling the clock.”

St. Martinville stopped a two-game losing streak with consecutive wins over Opelousas (32-6) and Ellender (35-32).

Derouen welcomes the return of offensive lineman Tre Alexander, who has been out since the jamboree with an injury.

“It should be a hard-nosed, old school game,” Derouen said. “We’re going to be pounding against each other and having to grind it out and let athletes make plays. We have to minimize turnovers and penalties.”

LOREAUVILLE AT CHNI:Before Catholic-NI can look toward a potential Week 10 showdown at No. 2 Notre Dame, they must first address the challenge presented by Loreauville.

Loreauville’s coming off a 35-0 home loss to Notre Dame — a final score CHNI coach Brent Indest felt was a little misleading.

“They played extremely well against Notre Dame,” he said. “They held their run game down as well as anybody’s done all year long. Special teams was a huge difference in the game.”

Catholic rebounded from a 42-41 home loss to Patterson with dominating district wins over West St. Mary and Delcambre.

Running back Seth Pierre tops the Panthers with 101 carries for 783 yards and 11 TDs, while quarterback Diallo Landry has added 260 yards and 7 TDs on 45 attempts.

“We have to take care of the ball,” Indest said. “If we turn the ball over in a game like this, we’re not going to win. It’s going to be a big part of the game.”