DESTREHAN – Prior to Friday night’s game against his biggest rival, Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio approached his predecessor, Lou Valdin, on the Destrehan sideline and asked him for advice.
“Lou, how do I beat these guys?” asked Saltaformaggio, who went into the 61st meeting of the two teams 0-4 in his tenure.
Valdin, who now spends his Fridays on the radio, replied, “Run at them.”
That’s precisely what the Tigers did Friday night on the way to a 20-13 victory in the District 7-5A opener for both teams. It was the first win for the Tigers against their arch-rivals since 2012, when Valdin was the coach.
“It was a long time coming,” an emotional Saltaformaggio said after the game. “A long time coming.”
The game plan all along was to run at the Wildcats, especially with a player like Anthony “Pooka” Williams in the backfield. The senior, who has committed to Kansas but has an offer on the table from LSU and several others, lived up to his pre-game billing, rushing for 260 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. His first score covered six yards; his second was a spectacular, zigging, zagging 55-yard run.
“We were the underdogs,” Williams said. “Everybody was picking Destrehan to win. We came out here and handled our business. I’m a workhorse. If my team works for me, I’m going to work with them. This is a big accomplishment.”
The Tigers also showed they were no one-man show. Quarterback Jha’Quan Jackson, scored his team’s second touchdown when he broke loose for a 64-yard run in the first quarter. He only completed one pass, but that was an impressive 44-yard strike to Williams.
Destrehan did move the ball well at times, but failed to capitalize on opportunities and settled for a pair of Phillip Stratton field goals in the first half.
Quarterback JR Blood scored the lone Wildcats touchdown, scrambling for a 2-yard run with 7:36 remaining in the game. Blood threw effectively, completing 17 of 29 passes for 178 yards with one interception. John Emery finished with 89 yards on 14 carries, but the Tigers defense kept him out of the end zone.
“You can’t make mistakes,” Destrehan coach Stephen Robicheaux said. “I think we came out here and made a lot of mistakes. They did a good job of doing some things that hurt us. But my guys fought hard and it ended up going all the way down to the wire. They didn’t give up. They kept playing hard.”
Destrehan’s offensive woes began early when the Wildcats got to the Hahnville 29 but turned the ball over on downs after Blood threw incomplete.
Then "The Pooka Show" began as he ran for 62 of Hahnville’s 70 yards on its first drive, including a 6-yard touchdown. Thomas Rasco’s PAT put the Tigers ahead 7-0 with 5:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Destrehan came back, driving from its own 32 to the Hahnville 10 on eight plays, but had to settle for a 28-yard field goal with 2:38 remaining in the first quarter.
Jackson’s breakout run came on the second play of the next drive and Rasco's PAT made it 14-3 with 1:45 remaining in the quarter.
Hahnville’s Dylan DeJean stopped another Wildcats drive when he intercepted a Blood pass in the end zone. The Tigers turned the ball over on downs at the Destrehan 20 with 7:28 remaining in the half. By then, Williams had gained 100 yards.
The Wildcats stopped another Hahnville drive when Jalen Smothers intercepted a Jackson pass in the end zone.
Williams put the Tigers ahead 20-3 with 6:39 left in the third quarter, running up the right side and shaking tackles for a 55-yard touchdown. The PAT kick failed.
Blood led the Wildcats on a 70-yard drive that stalled at the Tigers’ 7 and Stratton kicked a 25-yard field goal with 2:24 remaining in the third.
Destrehan had a few more chances.
After Blood scored from the 2, capping a 89-yard drive with 7:36 remaining, the Wildcats defense came up big by stopping Hahnville at the Destrehan 18, where they then took over.
Working the clock, the Wildcats managed only to get to midfield as time expired.