Just eight weeks ago, coach Nick Saltaformaggio got to see the storied River Parishes rivalry between Hahnville and Destrehan up close.
He saw the fans tailgating in Destrehan’s parking lot, the costumed students lined up at the ticket gate a good hour before it opened and, by kickoff, the standing-room-only crowd hoping to see a hard-fought battle between two good football teams.
“It was amazing,” said Saltaformaggio, the longtime New Orleans area coach and the first-year coach of the Hahnville Tigers. “It’s what made me want the job in the first place. You don’t get to see that type of atmosphere too often.”
Well, Saltaformaggio and the rest of the River Parishes will get to see it again Friday night.
For only the second time in the annals of the Hahnville-Destrehan rivalry, which dates to 1946, Hahnville and Destrehan will meet twice in a season. Destrehan defeated the Tigers 24-6 on Oct. 3 in a regular-season game. Friday night the two will meet in the Class 5A quarterfinals of the playoffs. The winner will advance to the semifinals next week.
The last time it happened was 1972. Destrehan won the regular season contest 13-0. But the playoff game ended in a 0-0 tie.
Back before overtime, the officials went first to the number of first downs each team had, then to opponent penetrations. Hahnville was awarded a 13-2 victory on first downs. The Tigers later went on to win the Class 2A state championship on first downs (16-13) after a 26-26 tie against Denham Springs.
But the coaches of this year’s teams say everyone needs to forget about history — both ancient and recent. Neither team is exactly what it was on Oct. 3. Hahnville certainly isn’t. Back then, the Tigers were still adjusting to the loss of starting quarterback Mike Neal to a broken collarbone. The offense was adjusting to new quarterback Austin Perrin. And the coaches and players were still just trying to get to know one another.
“We still weren’t sure what we had,” Saltaformaggio said. “We had only been coaching these kids since March. We were still learning about them. They were still learning about us.”
Whatever lessons both learned that night were good ones, apparently, as the Tigers went from the loss at Destrehan to a seven-game win streak. In addition, Neal has returned to the lineup and is sharing quarterback duties with Perrin, along with Dylan Crockett. The three of them still have receiver Brian Singleton, however, who has 38 catches for more than 660 yards.
Destrehan, meanwhile, is still pretty much Destrehan – the “new” Destrehan, the one that runs the ball rather than passes it. Last year Destrehan passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for about 1,000. This year, it’s the opposite. Kirk Merritt, who was the Wildcats’ leading receiver last year, has rushed for more than 900 yards this season. Will Matthews has rushed for more than 1,500 yards, including his 161 gained last week against East St. John. Starting quarterback Marquise Darensbourg has come into his own, passing for more than 1,400 yards. But like their opponent, the Wildcats have learned to share quarterbacking duties.
Sophomore Kohen Granier has seen more than his share of time under center, and not just mopping up either.
Both coaches also claim that this is not just a do-over. And it’s not just another Hahnville-Destrehan game — minus the toilet papering of houses.
“It’s not Hahnville,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said. “It’s the quarterfinals. It’s whoever you have next. It’s big for the community.
“It’s great for St. Charles Parish. But for the kids, it’s the next step on the way to a championship.”