Heading into his first season as the head coach of the Hahnville football Tigers, Nick Saltaformaggio had heard the stories and heard the tales about what has often been billed “the biggest game of the year.” The players tried to tell him. His staff tried to tell him. The fans tried to tell him. Even Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux tried to tell him.

But there’s nothing like experiencing it for yourself. And Saltaformaggio was fortunate enough to do that twice — in one season — as the Tigers and the Wildcats met for regular-season bragging rights in October, then again for a trip to the semifinals in November. Destrehan took both.

So there should be no surprises for Saltaformaggio this year as his team prepared to host its archrival and nemesis in this year’s “Battle on the River,” the 64th meeting of the two St. Charles Parish teams, dating to 1946, and one of the nationally designated 100 Great American Rivalry Series games. Now, Saltaformaggio said, he gets it.

“I’ve seen the Holy Cross-Jesuit rivalry, the pre-Katrina Hannan-Chalmette rivalry, the East Jeff-West Jeff rivalry,” Saltaformaggio said. “They all pale in comparison to the Hahnville-Destrehan rivalry. There is nothing else like it.”

It certainly is the game that has the attention of St. Charles Parish this week, from the courthouse to the Sheriff’s Office to the plants along the river. It’s East Bank vs. West Bank, Wildcat vs. Tiger, with a whole smorgasbord of food and drink riding on the outcome. It’s also the week folks know to stock up on toilet paper and pick up the lawn ornaments.

“It’s all good fun,” Robicheaux said. “But for the cheerleaders and the fans. Not for the players.”

For the players, this week is all business, with both coaches declaring it to be “just another week” against “just another opponent.”

Right.

“It’s the biggest game of the year,” said Hahnville senior captain, running back Drew Dunn. “I know everybody that plays on their team and they know us. I’m good friends with a lot of them. I grew up with a lot of them, playing baseball and football. But whenever this week comes, that’s all over. They’re just another opponent.”

One the Tigers really want to take down. Destrehan, ranked No. 9 in the current LSWA Class 5A poll, has been the area powerhouse for a while now, having won the past three meetings after losing four in a row. The Wildcats were last year’s Class 5A state runners-up to Acadiana. They lost the previous year to Acadiana in the semifinals. Now Destrehan is 3-0 with solid wins against Slidell, Woodlawn and Ehret, all with a new quarterback, a completely new offensive line and several new playmakers.

After a shaky jamboree, first-year starting quarterback Kohen Granier has settled into his role. He completed 8 of 18 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns last week. But most fans were talking about senior newcomer Chad Serrano, who had an interception, caught a touchdown pass and scored on special teams in the Wildcats’ 38-18 win over Ehret.

But not much has changed on the defensive side, which is led by LSU commit Glen Logan and Texas commit Gerald Wilbon. Added to the mix is junior Jaece Stroud, who is stepping up big, Robicheaux said.

Hahnville is trying to adjust to a new offense and trying to rebound from last week’s 10-7 loss to Riverside, a team Saltaformaggio said his team did not take as seriously as it should have.

“There was nothing I could tell them to make them believe that this wasn’t just some little 2A football team,” Saltaformaggio said. “We had a terrible week of practice.”

Still, the Tigers had their chances and did some good things. Quarterback Mike Neal finished with 104 yards passing

“We have some special players, too,” Saltaformaggio said. “But until we focus on the ‘we’ and worry about us, we’re going to have trouble.”