When Hahnville drove the length of the field on the opening drive of its Class 5A second-round playoff match with visiting Zachary, the Tigers seemed poised to get revenge on the team that denied them a state championship a year early.
On fourth-and-goal from the Zachary 3-yard line, however, quarterback Andrew Robison was stopped a yard short of the goal line. Hahnville had nothing to show for a 73-yard drive except disappointment while the Broncos showed why they are the defending state champions with a 41-20 win.
“We get everybody’s best shot every week, and that’s good,” Zachary coach David Brewerton said. “It’s better than the alternative. We want to have those situations in our program. In the last four years, we’ve been twice in the semis and twice in the Superdome. Our kids have played some really big games in some really big atmospheres. They are comfortable with that. They were comfortable tonight even with as loud as it was, they didn’t rattle.”
They certainly didn’t rattle with the early defensive stop.
“We felt if we could punch that first one in and make them get a little nervous, it might help us but they (the Broncos) did some things tonight that showed they are special,” said Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio.
“I think that was a huge point in this football team. They open up with a great drive and our defense rose up right there on the half-yard line and we turn that into a 99-and-half yard drive. It was big for our confidence and it was pretty disheartening for their’s,” Brewerton said.”
The loss ended a tumultuous season for Hahnville, the No. 22 seed, at 6-6. Zachary, the No. 6 seed, improved to 10-2 and advances to the Class 5A quarterfinals at Acadiana, the No. 3 seed.
Zachary’s defense quickly adjusted to the Tigers’ running attack. Hahnville rushed for 63 yards on its opening drive but netted only 29 additional yards on the ground the rest of the game.
“The big problem is we couldn’t block them. They were giving us a five-man box and we couldn’t block them. The constant pressure on Andrew; we just got whipped by a better team,” said Saltaformaggio.
“They were dropping six, seven guys every time,” Robison said. “It’s something we hadn’t seen before. They probably are going to the state championship game. They are a really, really good team. They played better than we did.”
“There was some stuff we weren’t used to,” added Robison. “We tried to make some adjustments but when you play a team like Zachary, you can’t afford to underthrow a person in the end zone that’s a touchdown. You can’t afford to not be on the same page with the receivers on some routes. It was frustrating but Zachary was the better team tonight.”
The game was still very much in doubt going into the third quarter as the Tigers only trailed 14-6 at halftime.
Zachary quickly removed the doubt by scoring on its first three drives of the second half before running out the clock on its fourth possession.
“I told the kids at halftime that the first six minutes of the second half would be the most important part of the game and that’s how it played out,” said Saltaformaggio.
Zachary running back R.J. Allen capped a 64-yard drive to open the second half with an 18-yard run up the middle to extended the Broncos’ lead to 20-6. It was the second of four running touchdowns for Allen, who was subbing for injured starter Kyle Landry, who was out with a knee injury. Allen finished with 149 yards on 24 carries.
“He worked hard all year and got his shot tonight and produced,” Brewerton said of Allen.
A 4-yard touchdown run by Allen on Zachary’s next drive gave the Broncos a 27-6 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
Three plays later, it was 34-6 when Sean Burrell returned an errant Robison throw for a touchdown eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
Allen’s fourth touchdown – on a 19-yard run – was sandwiched around a pair of Hahnville touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The first came on a 16-yard pass from Robison to Jerry Spencer and the second on a 1-yard run by Robison with 27 seconds left in the game to account for the 41-20 final.
“Our guys believe in our strength and conditioning program and we believe if we can keep the game close at halftime- we are not overly big; we have some smaller guys on the two lines, except a couple of big, ole linemen – that we can take over with our strength and conditioning and that’s what happened,” Brewerton said of his team’s ability to pull away in the second half.
Big plays highlighted the first half.
With Zachary leading 7-0, Maxwell Farrell returned an errant Keilon Brown pass 56 yards for a touchdown. A blocked extra point left Hahnville trailing 7-6 with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We had worked on it all week. I felt good for Max Farrell. He’s a senior and he’s bounced around from position to position and we had seen it on film a couple of times for him to just hang on the hook and that’s what he did and he got the pick and got us a little bit of a spark,” said Saltaformaggio.
A Robison interception at the Zachary 2-yard line had the Broncos at the shadow of their own goal line. Brown made amends for his earlier interception four plays later when he hooked up with a streaking Chandler Whitfield on an 85-yard bomb to give Zachary a 14-6 lead at the 3:27 mark of the second quarter.
“I was really interested to see, with the atmosphere here, when (Brown) threw the pick-6. If the ball had been a foot higher, we walk into the end zone because we had a guy open. After that, I was interested how he would react. He never batted an eye and played lights out the rest of the night,” said Brewerton.
After Hahnville came away with no points off if its opening drive of the game, Zachary countered by marching 99 yards for the game’s first touchdown. The drive was culminated by an 11-yard run by Allen for a 7-0 Broncos lead at the 2:38 mark of the first quarter.
A playoff run of two games allowed the Tigers to end the season at the .500 mark following a difficult start.
“I told them, ‘don’t let tonight define your season. Let these 48 minutes hurt a little bit.’ But at the end of the day and we were sitting 1-4, if I would have said, ‘hey, we will make the second round of the playoffs,’ you would have called the loony bin and put me in a straight-jacket. Our kids were very resilient and played very, very hard through a rough year,” said Saltaformaggio.
After a year that saw eligibility issues, court action, an appeal and an arbitrator’s ruling, Robison managed to play three games in his senior season at Hahnville.
“I love my teammates and I was happy that I got a chance to play,” Robison said. “We went through a lot as a team so for us to make it to the second round, no one would have thought that when we were sitting 1-4 early in the season.
“I think it speaks a lot about my teammates and the coach that is over here (Saltaformaggio). With all the adversity we faced and still being able to preserve and fight through it, I’m proud of my teammates. I love those guys, I love my coaches and I’m just happy I got a chance to play.”
Robison concluded his final game going 14 of 28 passing for 155 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed 12 times for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Hahnville running back Brandon Comardelle ended with 81 yards on 14 carries. Jerry Spencer had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown to top the Tigers in receiving.
Zachary’s defense held the Tigers to 247 total yards.
The Broncos amassed 459 yards of total offense.
Allen rushed for 149 of his team’s 190 yards on the ground.
Brown was 13 of 20 for 269 yards.
Including his 75-yard touchdown, Whitfield finished with 208 yards receiving.
While Robison and others depart, those who return for the Tigers now move on.
“We have a lot of good players coming back. For us, it’s just going to be regroup, get in the weight room, get stronger and faster and look forward to spring football,” Saltaformaggio said.