What did the presence of quarterback Andrew Robison on the field mean to Hahnville in the Tigers’ 48-0 win last Friday over H.L. Bourgeois in the regular-season finale?
“The thing that he gave us was an energy boost,” Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio said. “I made our kids understand completely that we were in the position we were in because of Andrew Naquin. Andrew got us in the position to be a playoff team and Andrew Robison will give us a chance, hopefully, to advance in the playoffs and kind of finish where we thought we would be.”
Where the Tigers thought they would be is a team coming off a trip to the Class 5A state championship and looking for another deep playoff run in 2018.
That feeling was enhanced with the arrival of Robison, a transfer from Vandebilt Catholic. Although the Tigers had lost running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams, now with the Kansas Jayhawks, a trio of backs to pace the ground attack, and the addition of a potentially potent air attack had the team dreaming of lofty goals.
It all came crashing down when Robison was ruled ineligible by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
Hahnville went into a tailspin, losing four of its first five games. Although the passing game struggled, with Naquin, a sophomore at the helm, the Tigers rebounded to sport a 4-5 mark going into Week 10, when an arbitrator ruled in favor of Robison in time for him to make his Hahnville debut against H.L. Bourgeois.
Robison quickly showed his skill set.
“He hadn’t played in over a year and he went 13 of 19 for 162 yards and two scores,” Saltaformaggio said. “He really worked through the game plan that we had already put in place for Andrew Naquin. We really didn’t take advantage of some of the throws that he can make that Andrew Naquin struggles with a little bit.
“This week, we will kind of extend our passing a little bit, and hopefully, we get to do it the following week.”
Hahnville qualified for the playoffs as the No. 22 seed and plays Friday night at 7 p.m. at Walker, the No. 11 seed.
The Hahnville-Walker game has an additional subplot beyond Robison now being on the field.
Lester Ricard, a former offensive coordinator at Hahnville, resigned as Walker’s coach prior to the start of the season. Despite turmoil of their own, the Wildcats went on to have one of their better season in years at 8-2 under interim coach Cecil Thomas.
The Wildcats love to throw the ball, with 67.7 percent of Walker’s offense coming through the air.
One big reason is a pair of stellar receivers. The standout of the group is 6-foot junior Jalen Cook.
“He’s got a lot of length. He’s very tall. He must have exceptionally-big hands because he can palm balls. He made one catch on film that looked Odell Beckham-ish,” said Saltaformaggio, referring to the former LSU and current New York Giants receiver. “He won a state championship with their basketball team last year so he has championship pedigree about him.”
Cook definitely will be a challenge for the Hahnville defense.
“While we have very good speed at our corners, we don’t have very good height. We will have to do a good job getting deep in our coverage, getting back to the ball, being able to jump and maybe get a ball out of his hands, put our hands on his hip and maybe get him turned a little bit,” Saltaformaggio said.
Another big target is 6-foot-4 sophomore Brian Thomas.
“He’s a vertical threat. They do a lot of combination routes with both of those guys on the same side of the field. We are going to have a little bit of a difficulty because we are primarily a three-deep football team and they are going to run a lot of double-vertical routes by both those guys. Our inverts (safety-linebacker hybrid) will have to go a good job of getting on the hip and taking that inside vertical route away,” explained Saltaformaggio.
Defending the Wildcats, Saltaformaggio said, is more than just dealing with the receiving duo.
“We have to do a good job of not only defending the routes and defending the height of the receivers, but defending the fact they keep the ball alive. Their quarterbacks, Ethan McMasters and Byron Lockhart, do a good job of keep plays alive with their feet. Lockhart is a running back/safety. He’s kind of a wildcat-type quarterback but he’s atypical of a wildcat-type quarterback in that he can throw the football,” the Hahnville coach said.
Walker’s running backs include Liam Daigle and Demitri Wright.
Defensively, the Wildcats operate out of a 4-2-5 alignment.
Top defenders for Walker include Lockhart and defensive lineman Ke’Andre Ventress.
“The problem is not so much what they are going to do defensively, it’s do we have the ability to block them,” Saltaformaggio said. “It’s kind of been the story for us all year long. I think we have some kids who are giving us great effort out there. We’re not used to seeing what we’re seeing. In the past, we knocked people off the ball. We just knocked them. Here we are, for whatever reason, in Week 11, and were are not establishing the line of scrimmage. I think it goes back to we have two new starters and two others playing positions they hadn’t in the past. We are just trying to work our way through it.”
Could the presence of Robison and a passing game help with the Hahnville’s blocking?
“I hope so,” Saltaformaggio said. “When they look at us on film, they can’t sit there with nine guys in the box all the time like people have done against us.”
“We are still running the ball,” the Hahnville coach continued. “It’s really who were are. What he’s done for us is second-and-8, we are not screaming for the punt team. Second-and-8 and third-and-8 have become manageable downs for us all of a sudden. It hasn’t been that way since I’ve been here.”
An example came in the H.L. Bourgeois game when facing fourth-and-17, Robison tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass.
The Hahnville coach said he is confident about his team’s ability going into the playoffs.
“They (the Wildcats) are a solid 8-2 football team but we’re a battle-tested 5-5 football team,” Saltaformaggio said. “After everything was said and done, we had the most difficult schedule in 5A football. That’s good that we were able to negotiate it, but bad that we didn’t win some games that still sit on us. Looking at brackets after they came out, had we beaten East St. John, we would have been the 12 seed. Had we beaten Brother Martin and East St. John, we would have been an eight seed.
“There were some things that went on during the season that are unacceptable, but we’re 0-0 just like everybody else. We will have to go on the road in Round One and win a game. If we do, we will be back home for Round Two – it will probably be against Zachary – but we will be at home for Round Two.”