Hahnville kicks off the Class 5A football playoffs in unfamiliar territory.
But being a District 7-5A champion definitely agrees with the Tigers, who ended Destrehan’s four-year reign as bayou kingpin with an undefeated run.
“I just think our kids like being around each other,’’ Hahnville fourth-year coach Nick Saltaformaggio said. “They like playing together. They like being in the locker room. And as crazy as this is going to sound, they’re just not tired of being around each other.
“They still like hanging out together. And to me, that means everything. It’s what gives them an opportunity to win every week. As long as that continues, I think we’re going to have a shot in the tournament.’’
Hahnville (8-2) carries a No. 10 seed and a seven-game winning streak into its first-round pairing against No. 23 Denham Springs (6-4) scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday in Boutte.
The Tigers’ district title is their first since 2012, when they competed in a district combining St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and Jefferson parish schools. Hahnville’s last Bayou District crown was in 2009.
Saltaformaggio looks at the last four playoff forays made by a District 7-5A champion (albeit all by Destrehan) and sees advances to the semifinals, quarterfinals, finals and semifinals. And he smiles.
“Hopefully, that holds its course,’’ Saltaformaggio said.
Not that the Tigers have been wanting during the past three seasons following Saltaformaggio’s arrival from East Jefferson, where he directed the Warriors to an impressive run to a Class 4A state championship in 2013.
The Tigers are 5-3 in the playoffs under Saltaformaggio with advances to the second round last year following quarterfinal appearances in his first two seasons.
“I really feel like for the first time since I’ve been the head coach at Hahnville that I belong here, that it was the right move for me to make,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “I can’t tell you I felt that way before. I never really felt comfortable.
“But we’re doing the right things. I don’t know what’s going to happen Friday night. No one does. But I know we’re doing the right things, and as long as we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll be fine.’’
What separates these Tigers from their three immediate predecessors is a tough-as-nails defense, deployed in a 33-stack scheme, and an emerging junior quarterback Jha’quan Jackson, who compliments the other-worldly exploits of all-state running back Anthony “Pooka’’ Williams.
“We’re playing better defensively — way better than we’ve ever played,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “We just have better players playing defense. But we’ve also stayed consistent with the scheme. We haven’t varied from our scheme like we did the last three years.’’
Linebackers Conor Fenerty, Amontaé Jernigan, Dylan Dejean and John Pearsall are rangy players who can run and love to hit. They operate behind sophomore nose guard Adonis Frilous, whom Saltaformaggio calls “a dominant defensive lineman’’ and future “big-time recruit.’’
Jackson, a Kansas commitment as a wide receiver, is completing his first season at quarterback, where his darting runs and passes have produced 1,244 yards and 18 touchdowns. Jackson has rushed for 812 yards and 12 touchdowns on 110 carries while completing 18 of 45 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns with six interceptions.
“The difference in our football now and at the beginning of the year is then we had an athlete playing quarterback,’’ Saltaformaggio said of the 5-foot-10, 150-pound Jackson. “Now we’ve got a quarterback who’s an athlete.
“We’re not ever going to be throwing the ball all over the field like some teams do. But we’re good enough to throw it to keep people from crowding us all of the time.’’
But let’s not forget Williams, who remains the linchpin.
Pooka has scored 25 touchdowns and averaged more than a first down (11.0 yards) per attempt while rushing for 1,734 yards and 23 scores on 158 carries. Because of Hahnville’s lopsided scores in district play, Williams has not played in the second half in half of the Tigers’ games.
Saltaformaggio believes his team is playing loose and primed as it attempts to advance to the second round against the winner between No. 7 Ruston and No. 26 East St. John.
“I don’t think we’re feeling any unwanted pressure,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “We’re probably playing a little angry because we got a 10 seed. Our kids are like, ‘What do you mean we’re a 10 seed?’ ’’
Imagine the nerve of disrespecting a District 7-5A champion.
“Here at Hahnville, given that if you win the district championship it probably means you beat Destrehan, it means a whole lot,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “It almost takes on a whole other meaning because of who you’re chasing.
“Sometimes when you win a district championship, you don’t have those kind of rivalries. But when you beat Destrehan to win it at Hahnville, it means a whole lot more. It takes on a whole other level because of who you have to beat to win it.’’