The start of the high school football playoffs had Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio thinking of a different sport.
“My favorite race in track is the 110-meter hurdles, not the 110 meters,” Saltaformaggio said. “It’s my favorite race because the guy that wins that has battled through obstacles; it wasn’t a clear lane from start to finish.
“Unlike the regular season, the playoffs are a sprint, but it’s the hurdles, not the 100. So, we will handle some hurdles again Friday night. The bus ride will be a hurdle; just the general distraction of a Friday not being in a school. We are a routine program. We do everything the same way. Our practices are the same. The way we talk to the kids, it’s the same. Everything we do is a routine and we will be off of our routine Friday. That’s a hurdle we will have to handle.”
After defeating Denham Springs 42-21 last week in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs, the hurdles for Hahnville get a bit higher as the Tigers, the No. 10 seed, travel to north Louisiana to take on Ruston, the No. 9 seed.
The Bearcats went 7-2 in the regular season with their losses being to powers Acadiana and West Monroe. Ruston is coming off a 35-25 opening-round triumph over East St. John.
Ruston utilizes two quarterbacks in the physically smaller Eric Outley and C.J. Willis. In an ironic twist, Outley reminds Saltaformaggio of ESJ quarterback Dasmain Crosby and Willis of one of his own players, the coach said.
“ “Watching them on film, Outley reminded us of the East St. John quarterback and their No. 4 (C.J. Willis) reminds us of our 4 (Jha’Quan Jackson),” the Hahnville coach said.
Both of Ruston’s quarterbacks are adept at running the quarterback counter, according to Saltaformaggio.
“Any quarterback run game has been a little difficult for us. We really will have to focus in on the quarterback run game,” Saltaformaggio said.
If Outley or Willis is not running the ball, they generally are handing it off to Deandre Marcus, a Louisiana Tech commitment.
“He’s kind of built along the lines of our Termon Nash, maybe a little bigger,” said Saltaformaggio.
The Bearcats also will take defender Tahjmalik Samuel and put him in the backfield.
“What they will do is they will take Tahjmalik Samuel, who is an exceptional defensive player for them, and they will play him at fullback, kind of like what we do with John Pearsall,” Saltaformaggio said.
While the Hahnville coach continually noticed similarities between the two teams, he also pointed out one glaring difference.
“The big difference is we have ‘Pooka’ and they don’t. That, so far, has been a big difference, in a lot of games,” said Saltaformaggio, referring to running back Anthony Williams, who is coming off a 305-yard rushing performance against Denham Springs.
The top receiving threat for Ruston is Donald Johnson, a Grambling commitment.
“They are not great at throwing the ball as far as scheme is concerned. It’s kind of like we saw with Denham but they are athletic at receiver. We had some breakdowns with our corners last week. That’s a concern for me,” Saltaformaggio said.
The Bearcats also boast a big tight end in Ray Parker at 6-foot-5, 280 pounds.
Defensively, Ruston is based out of a 4-2-5.
“I think like everybody else, when we put a tight end in the game and a fullback in the game, they will give us a little bit of that Bear look – bring the ninth guy up to the line of scrimmage and man us up on the outside – we are not overly explosive at receiver. But that plays in our hands. When we do get the crease and ‘Pooka’ gets to the second level, there’s nobody there, so it’s a touchdown. Hopefully, that script continues to play out as we advance in the playoffs,” Saltaformaggio said.
Along the playing fullback, the athletic Samuel also is a fixture on defense for the Bearcats.
“Samuel is an exceptional football player. He plays defensive end. Sometimes they put him at (middle) linebacker,” Saltaformaggio said.
The majority of Hahnville’s games in the regular season were decided by halftime but Saltaformaggio said he doesn’t expect that to be the case Friday night.
“It definitely will be a fourth-quarter game. I don’t think we will be like we’ve been in the last eight weeks, going into the fourth quarter in control handily. That’s what it will come down to; how will we handle that?” the Hahnville coach rhetorically asked.