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Williams, Brumfield showcase 5A quarterfinal playoff encounter

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  • George Becnel
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  • November 22, 2017 - 2:07pm

File photosNick Saltaformaggio's long-awaited wish of Hahnville hosting at Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game becomes reality when the Tigers take on Covington.

Ever since Nick Saltaformaggio arrived in Hahnville four years ago, the Tigers have yearned to host a Class 5A quarterfinal game at home.

The Tigers were of the belief that in order to get it, they likely would have to earn a Top 8 seed in the playoffs. Getting a Top 8 seed also likely meant a win over rival Destrehan along the way.

Hahnville defeated Destrehan and finished the regular season 8-2. The Tigers ended up with a No. 10 seed going into the playoffs, with Destrehan holding the No 8 seed. Yet, it’s the Tigers who are still alive in the playoffs and will host 12-0 Covington, the No. 2 seed, on Friday night.

“I just felt all along that we were one of the better 5A football teams,” Saltaformaggio said. “After we had those two losses early in the year, people kind of forgot about us. It worked out to our advantage. We went out and beat a very good Destrehan team. Looking back at our two losses to two really good football teams, it kind of made our kids and coaches realize this could be a special group of football players.”

Getting to the quarterfinals meant having to beat Ruston on the road.

“Friday night’s game at Ruston, with all due respect to Destrehan and Brother Martin and John Ehert, that was the best football team we’ve played and is probably one of the best three or four football teams I’ve coached against since I have been at Hahnville. We were able to get up there and get the win and get the quarterfinal game here, which is something we have been shooting for,” said Saltaformaggo.

Now, the Tigers face a Covington team with a bit of revenge on its mind. Hahnville defeated the Lions 31-17 in the opening round of the playoffs a year ago.

Friday’s game showcases the top two running backs in the state. Covington’s Devin Brumfield rushed for 1,779 yards and 18 touchdowns on 233 carries in the regular season while Hahnville’s Anthony “Pooka” Williams amassed 1,734 yards and 23 touchdowns on 158 attempts.

“I know this is being billed as the two best backs on the same field Friday night. A lot of times you get those billings and it might not be accurate but this time, it’s pretty accurate. We know that Devin Brumfield is a great football player but where they are really special is at quarterback. Josh Alfaro is a special talent. Their RPO (run-pass option) game is good. They have two very good receivers in Kejohn Batiste and Elgin Bell.”

Saltaformaggio compared Brumfield to the New Orleans Saints’ Mark Ingram and Williams to Alvin Kamara.

“Brumfield is a big, physical, between-the-tackles kind of back. He’s one of those pile-moving kind of guys,” said Saltaformaggio.

While Brumfield and Williams are both prolific, there is a major difference between the offenses of Covington and Hahnville, according to Saltaformaggio.

“The Achilles heel is we are a one-trick pony offensively. We are getting no production out of anybody offensively other than Anthony. With that being said, he has 608 yards and eight touchdowns in two playoff games. If we are going to ride a pony, we might as well ride Secretariat. That’s kind of where we are right now,” the Hahnville coach said.

Williams is coming off a game in which he rushed for 302 of his team’s 350 yards of total offense in a win over Ruston. Covington, by contrast, has a balanced attack in its win over Ouachita Parish with 159 yards rushing and 147 passing.

Josh Alfaro, Covington’s quarterback, has a lot to do with that balance, Saltaformaggio said.

“What makes Alfaro great is that he not only understands the offense, he understands where his playmakers are and he gets the ball to them a lot,” said Saltaformaggio.

The 2017 Lions boast the school’s all-time rusher in Brumfield, all-time passer in Alfaro, and the second-leading all-time receiver in Elgin Bell.

Those accomplishments came in large part due to a huge offensive line for Covington.

“They are gigantic up front. It causes us some concern because we are not the biggest group up front (on defense). Their two tackles, Will Wanner, is 6-5, 320, and Nick Cotton is 6-6, 280.”

Being able to control the running back against the Lions’ huge offensive line will be a key factor in the game, according to Saltaformaggio.

“We have to be able to defend the run game with our front six and be able to defend the perimeter game with our back five,” the Hahnville coach said. “If we have to declare a seventh, or God forbid, an eighth, to defend the run game, it will be tough because their three receivers are really, really good.

“In the past, the quarterback run game was a problem because it became a run play. We may have been out of position in making tackles, and all-of-a-sudden, a third-and-long becomes a first-and-10 because of the quarterback run. What Alfaro does, he escapes pressure but still looks to throw the ball downfield. He can pick up yards with his feet. He’s about 6-3, 215 and he’s got a great presence about him. When he breaks contain, he’s looking to continue the ball down the field in the pass game.”

Defensively, the Lions are likely to crowd the line of scrimmage against Hahnville, Saltaformaggio said.

“They are going to be a point of attack defensive football team. They’re going to sell out to stop the immediate point of attack. If we’re able to break it, especially with Anthony, we can get big run yards again,” the Hahnville coach said.

While that has been the strategy of most opponents, Ruston tried a different tactic a week ago.

“Ruston was a defense that wasn’t going to give up the long run. They figured Anthony would get his 7- and 9-yard gains. He had to carry 42 times for us last week because we had zero offensive production from anyone else. He had 302 yards, but he didn’t have his big 75- or 80-yard runs. Ruston did a great job of pursuit angles. When the ball got past the point of attack, they had a second and third defender waiting for Anthony. They didn’t let him get to the outside,” said Saltaformaggio.

The Lions generally utilize a 4-2-5 scheme on defense, but that is likely to differ against Hahnville, Saltaformaggio said.

“They are a 4-2-5 team but I think against us they will get in a Bear with a nose guard with two guys over our guards and three linebackers at the second level. They will play us one-high and man us up on the outside and let that safety run the alley to defend Anthony. Until we find a way to complete a pass – we were 0-3 last week and we weren’t close on any of those three – that’s what people will do to us,” said Saltaformaggio.

The Lions may even use Brumfield on defense against Hahnville.

“Last year, they played Brumfield some at linebacker to try and slow Anthony down. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do that again,” Saltaformaggio said.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.