Three years into his career as East St. John coach, Brandon Brown finally gets a chance to take on rival Hahnville in Reserve.
“That will be a first for me,” Brown said. “My first two years, we were on the road. It will be the first time having them here at Joe Keller (Stadium). I just think our guys play a little different when they are here. Our passion is different. Our effort and energy is a little different. Any time you get a chance to play in front of your home crowd, it means a little bit more.”
East St. John lost last year’s encounter with Hahnville, causing the Wildcats to have to share the District 7-5A crown with the Tigers.
“Those kids and us were co-champions last year. Our kids know what this game means. We don’t talk about it – it’s always the next game, the next week and let’s been 1-0 every week – but I think in the back of our minds, those kids remember that 21-0 defeat we had last year,” said Brown.
In the 2019 clash, running back Darryle Evans had a big night running the ball and the Hahnville defense, led by Adonis Friloux constantly harassed East St. John quarterback Sean Sterling.
All those players are gone now, but the memories endure.
“Offensively, we didn’t get anything going against those guys last year. Everything we tried didn’t work. Hats off to those guys. Those guys were ready. I think we may have had a total of 80 yards of offense. You can’t beat anybody when you play that bad offensively,” Brown said.
Although the game comes only three weeks into the season, the winner of Friday’s contest at 7 p.m. at Joe Keller Stadium will be among the early leaders in the district standings with the teams each 1-0 in league play heading into the contest.
“Any time you have an opportunity to be 2-0 in this district, it’s a grand opportunity,” said Brown. “It’s so early, but this has district championship implications all over it. If you lose one game in district, the chances are you are not going to be the champion. We know that going in, not only this week, but every week.”
ESJ (2-0 overall, 1-0 in district) won its district opener 34-20 over H.L. Bourgeois despite numerous mistakes. It has been a challenge to work on correction those mistakes after the Wildcats played their first two games of the season over a five-day span.
“Playing a game on Saturday and turning around on Wednesday and having another game, we weren’t able to make a lot of corrections after our first game. After this game, we sat down as a staff and a team we were able to make some corrections and make some adjustments. Just having that meeting time will really propel us to this game this week,” Brown said.
If East St. John is to be the team to come out of Friday’s game 2-0 in district play, the Wildcats will have to contain a Hahnville offense that is averaging more than 40 points a game.
The triggerman for Hahnville’s high-scoring offense is senior quarterback Andrew Naquin.
“You can tell he’s comfortable in what he’s doing,” Brown said of Naquin. “You can tell he’s comfortable running their scheme. You can tell the growth and maturity of the young man.
“I think they are kind of letting off a little bit and letting him relax and play his game. I think he was more restricted to what he can and couldn’t do last year. Now, they are just letting him play.”
Despite losing Evans to graduation, the Tigers have not lost a beat with the emergence of Trey LaBranch. The senior ended a five-touchdown effort with a 70-yard touchdown callop in Hahnville’s 47-34 win over Terrebonne.
“They lose the running back from last year (Darryle Evans) and you see they are throwing it, and then you see the next film, you are like, ‘Oh, my God,’ they are very balanced,” said Brown.
LaBranch, along with receivers Corey Lorio, Troy Kendrick and Dakota Williams are all capable of big plays, something that is a concern for ESJ, according to Brown.
“We have to eliminate the big play. That’s been our Achilles heel so far this year. We play well on first down and second down, and then on third down, we give up a big play. We’ve even given up some fourth-down plays as well,” the East St. John coach said.
The Hahnville offensive line is anchored by massive Reginald Pierre.
Defensively, the Tigers (2-0 overall, 1-0 in district) are a youthful work in progress.
“They do a really good job of mixing it up. They are in an odd front in a 3-4. They walk their standup guy down and it turns into a 4-2. They bring pressure at times. They pick their times to bring pressure,” said Brown.
The Wildcats are familiar with Hahnville defensive lineman Cincere Simmons, who played junior high football at East St. John.
“You see a defensive lineman, Cincere Simmons, he really plays well. He has an awesome motor. He gets off the ball really well,” Brown said.
Catching the eye of the East St. John coach is linebacker Shamarr Moses.
Along with playing receiver, Lorio also roams the defensive secondary.
Another key defender on the back end is Alijah Hamilton.
The Wildcats are expected to be at full strength when they face Hahnville on Friday.
“We went into the HLB game without two of our starting linebackers. Had it been a traditional week, those guys may have played, but just with a short week and short turnaround, that’s just part of our rules. Those guys were held out of practice on Monday. If you don’t practice, you don’t play. That’s how we do things around here. They were held out because of some bumps and bruises, but with a short week, they didn’t have time to get in the swing of things to get the mental reps for the game plan. Having that little rest and recovery time, I think we will be OK. Those guys will be back and ready to go. This is a big week, and we need all hands on deck,” said Brown.