A new dimension has worked wonders for the Hahnville Tigers.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here where people can no longer defense us with nine-man boxes,” Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio said. “Just by the fact that people have to back away from us has made us better on the offensive line with the same kids that weren’t very good a month ago.
“Conceptually, we are a little bit different. We are playing with more three-by-one looks and two-by-two looks and less tight end looks. We’re moving the extra guy, via formation, and it’s just creating run lanes for us.”
The Tigers have been able to do that because of Andrew Robison. An eligibility battle finally ended with the transfer quarterback from Vandebilt Catholic able to take the field for Hahnville in time for the regular-season finale. The senior looked sharp in his debut in a 48-0 win over H.L. Bourgeois and in the Tigers’ 35-9 victory at Walker in the Class 5A playoff opener a week ago.
“The true definition of a leader is a guy that makes everybody else around him better. That’s what’s happened. Andrew Robison has made everybody around him better. We still shake our heads about the ‘what ifs,’ but we are glad we are in the second round, and hopefully, we can play well again Friday night against an outstanding Zachary team,” said Saltaformaggio.
The Tigers get another shot at Zachary, the team that defeated Hahnville for the state title a year ago, when the teams meet Friday in Boutte. Hahnville goes into the game 6-5 while Zachary is 9-2. The Broncos’ two losses were a 31-30 defeat against Catholic of Baton Rouge and 49-27 to University High, two of the top teams in the state on any level.
“It’s a shame it’s a second-round game. It should be quarterfinal/semifinal-type game. Because of our record, we got a low seed,” Saltaformaggio said.
Robison is a newcomer to the Hahnville-Zachary game but the Hahnville squad is very familiar with Broncos quarterback Keilon Brown, the Most Valuable Player of last year’s state championship game. Brown rushed for 189 yards in the title game a year ago.
“It all starts and ends with Keilon Brown. He’s the guy,” Saltaformaggio said.
Familiarity with Brown is one thing. Containing him, Saltaformaggio said, can be quite another.
“When you’ve got a guy that is that explosive with the ball in his hands on every single down, it obviously concerns you,” the Hahnville coach said. “His hallmark is not only his size, but his speed. He’s extremely athletic.
“The thing for us is to just to be able to account for him and control him. We can’t give him big run lanes. We have to play assignment football, especially when they are running their zone-read stuff. He’s the engine that makes the car go.”
If Zachary is like a car, then the Bronco has a lot of features.
Top-end speed comes in the form of receivers Chandler Whitfield, Chris Hilton and Sean Burrell.
“They are kind of different in that they present different problems,” Saltaformaggio said. “Chris Hilton is a tall kid, who scored on us last year right before half in the state championship game. He runs very good routes and has good hands.”
“Chandler Whitfield is a burner,” continued Saltaformaggio. “We’ve played some good football teams but we haven’t played anybody who runs like he runs. He’s a weapon in their speed sweep game. He’s a weapon in their vertical passing game. He’s obviously a weapon in their tunnel and bubble game. We really have to make sure that when he has the ball that we surround him and not let him get a crease. If he gets a crease, it’s a touchdown.
“Sean Burrell is kind of their possession receiver, but again, a guy with a lot of speed.”
Acceleration comes in the form of running backs Kyle Landry and R.J. Allen.
“They are not the biggest guys in the world but they hit the holes very, very hard and they are behind a giant offensive line. They hide themselves well. They find a crease and they hit the crease at 100 miles per hour,” said Saltaformaggio.
Landry suffered an injury in Zachary’s win over Sulphur and his status is questionable for the Hahnville game.
“I don’t know if he will be available for us, but they have plenty of talent,” Saltaformaggio said.
Other than one 210 pounder, all of the Zachary’s other offensive linemen are 270 pounds or more. Four are senior starters.
“They kind of remind us of us on the offensive line but I think they are senior laden. All those guys started in the state championship game,” Saltaformaggio said. “We are not that way. We are starting three new starters although nobody is a rookie anymore since we are 12 games into this now. They (the Broncos) don’t miss a lot of assignments. They are very difficult to get gaps on blitzes with because they are able to pick them up very quickly.
“Our defensive front has been really productive for us. We are going to try to control five with three. We really don’t want to get in four- man five-man fronts because of the speed of Keilon Brown”
Zachary’s defense is based out of an even-man front.
“They are based out of a 4-3. Against spread teams, you will get some 4-2-5,” Saltaformaggio explained.
The Broncos boast a pair of top linebackers in Maverick McClure and Wes Brady.
“We need to at least chip one of those linebackers a little bit because they are downhill fillers very quickly,” said Saltaformaggio.
Other top defenders are Charles Selders and Hunter Bell.
“I don’t think they are overly big as much as they are extremely fast and extremely well coached. We have to be able to neutralize the middle with Hunter Bell. For us to run the perimeter, we have to be able to block Charles Selders,” said Saltaformaggio.
Manning the secondary is Tyler Judson, an Ole Miss commitment.
More than any scheme, being able to avoid an intimidation factor will be the key to Hahnville finally beating able to defeat Zachary, according to Saltaformaggo.
“We can’t let who they are affect who we are. They have beaten us twice handily in the quarterfinals and the state championship game. They were the preeminent preseason pick to win the state championship. We can’t let who they are affect us. If we just go out and play hard; right now our kids have unbelievable confidence in Andrew Robison. He’s kind of a neutralizer for us. We’re way better defensively than we were last year. We can’t let that ‘Z’ on the hat beat us. If we don’t get intimidated by who they are, it will be a fourth-quarter game and we will have a chance to win it – and we have Andrew Robison.”