With the 2017 football season officially ending last week, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on another eventful week for River Parish Football.
State Championship Format
Although I stand firmly in the crowd that despises the split between the public and private schools, I much prefer the format of playing all of the state championship games in one weekend like the LHSAA went back to this year.
Emotion is still the overriding part of the game that I try to capture in our video or the stories we tell. Over the past few years, we've been forced to pick between covering a state championship game for a private school or a state semifinal for the public schools. Yes the celebration of a team winning a state championship is the ultimate, but the reaction to a team winning a semifinal game to earn a spot in the 'Dome is also priceless. In the current format we can get both.
West St. John
For the third consecutive season, River Parish Football has a state champion thanks to West St John's 20-14 win over Kentwood and to be honest, I can't say I was surprised.
After starting this website eight years ago and the countless TV shows I have done featuring RPF teams, you can guess what people ask me when I see fellow reporters at a Saints or LSU game. “Who are the top teams in the River Parishes this year?” or “Who's got the best shot to win state?” are the questions I field a lot.
This season I would start my answer with West St. John.
After a 2-2 start, it took awhile for the rest of the state to fully grasp how good this team was. But when the Rams got to the 1A portion of their schedule not only did they win, but did so emphatically. Against one-time league rival White Castle it was 61-6. Unbeaten Houma Christian was the next victim falling 62-0 in the district opener. Even in the semifinals against the defending 1A State Champions Varnado, the Rams rolled 45-0.
By the time it was over, there was no question who was the best Class 1A team in the state.
We are all influenced by what we see in person. The first Tigers game I saw this season was their 21-6 loss to Brother Martin in Week 3. If you would have asked me that night, I would have considered them as an underdog just winning at Destrehan the next week, yet alone at being a strong contender for making a run at a state championship.
By the time I saw them again in person a month later against East St. John, the biggest difference I noticed was on defense. Chris Stroud's unit shutout the Wildcats that night and that combination to go along with what Anthony “Pooka” Williams was doing on offense, would get them far.
Their semifinal win at Acadiana was probably the most exciting game I've covered in eight years running this website. Winning a road playoff game at Acadiana had literally not been done by any team in over 20 tries since Ted Davidson has been the Rams head coach. I watched a very talented Destrehan team get man-handled in a similar scenario on the very same field four years earlier. It was an incredible atmosphere that night, and it was only fitting that it would have a finish for the ages. The decision to go for the win in overtime instead of the tie was a huge one for Nick Saltaformaggio. Pooka's ensuing game-winning two-point conversion set off a frenzy felt by Hahnville for the next eight days. The Tigers may have come up short in the state championship game, but those were a magical eight days something not experienced by Hahnville Nation in 14 years.
My parents came from Florida to visit us for Thanksgiving. My Mom has always been my No.1 fan and peeked in my office to see what I was editing one night and I tried to explain to her what was going on with this running back from Hahnville named “Pooka.” I explained that rushing for 100 yards in one game was very good. Rushing for 200 yards was excellent. Rushing for 300 yards was on a different level and Pooka had done it THREE GAMES IN A ROW.
Those three games just happened to all take place in the 5A Playoffs. In the 5A Semifinals someone finally kept him, “in-check.” Against the Wreckin' Rams, Pooka “only” rushed for 212 yards, scored four touchdowns, and scored the game-winning walk-off two-point conversion in overtime on a play where he was forced to change directions with heavy pursuit seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. If the three consecutive 300+ yards rushing performances had created the legend, this game and specifically this play was the defining moment.
By itself, Pooka's game-winning two-point conversion run was spectacular. What I hope doesn't get loss is the context of the game in which it occurred.
What comes to mind is Carlton Fisk's game-winning homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and Michael Jordan's last-second shot over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo in Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals. Those plays may be etched in our minds, but it was the moment in which they occurred that gets lost through the years. The home run by Fisk came in the 12th inning after the Red Sox had got a dramatic pinch-hit three-run homer by Bernie Carbo to tie the game in the eight, after the Reds got out of a no outs bases loaded jam in the ninth, and after an over-the-fence home run saving catch by Boston's Dwight Evans in the 11th.
Many forget Jordan's heroic shot came after Ehlo's layup gave Cleveland a 100-99 lead with three seconds left. Pooka's two-point conversion came after he scored on Hahnville's first offensive play of overtime which followed Acadiana scoring seven points on a touchdown and extra point on their first possession of the extra frame. It was a do-or-die play, and instead of Hahnville's season dying, Pooka's defining moment was born.
Within the next few weeks we will name our annual winners of the Riverparishfootball.com Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Athlete of the Year, and Coach of the Year. We have strong candidates for each award but as always, welcome your input by emailing RPF Senior Writer George Becnel or myself.