Hahnville rides Pooka to ‘Dome

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One of the oldest axioms and clichés associated with sports is that if you have a horse, ride him.

Despite being just 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds, Anthony “Pooka” Williams has taken the Hahnville Tigers on his back, shoulder, feet and legs and carried the storied program to a state championship appearance.

Williams accounted for 322 yards and four touchdowns as 10th-seeded Hahnville downed No. 3 seed Acadiana 43-42 in overtime at Scott Friday night in the Class 5A semifinals. He rushed 25 times for 213 yards and three touchdowns, caught a pass for 10 yards and returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

Speaking on the Three Tailgaters Show on WGSO 990 AM Saturday morning, Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio continued his effusive praise of Williams.

“I have said it many times before and I will say it again: he is the best player in the state,” said Saltaformaggio. “He proves me right every time we he plays. He is a special player playing special games at a special time of the season. We would be crazy not to give him every opportunity to make plays and win games for us. He keeps doing it.”

In four playoff victories, Williams has now accounted for over 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns in a brilliant performance. For the season, Williams now has 278 carries for 2,908 yards and 36 touchdowns. He has seven catches for 154 yards and a score and has returned a kickoff, as well as a punt for a touchdown.

The loss snapped a 25-game playoff win streak for Acadiana.

Hahnville rallied from a 28-14 halftime deficit, thanks to Williams.

Special teams were huge as Williams returned the second half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 28-21 for a score. After Acadiana scored to make it 35-21, Michael Gray returned another kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown to make it 35-28.

“This was the first time I ever coached a team that returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game,” Saltaformaggio said. “The first one went a step from being a touchback. Anthony went to the middle. It came down to him and the kicker. I’ll take him in that matchup. The second one was a squib kick and Gray just did a great job.”

The Tigers forced overtime when Jha’quan Jackson scored on a one-yard run to make it 35-35 on a drive where Williams accounted for the first 62 yards to set up the score.

In overtime, the Wreckin’ Rams scored on a touchdown run by Jaylon Borel to make it 42-35 before Williams scored on a 10-yard run to cut the deficit to 42-41. Borel had an excellent game, completing all six of his pass attempts for 203 yards and a touchdown and he rushed four times for 12 yards and two scores.

Tigers head coach Nick Saltaformaggio did not hesitate, electing to go for two and the win.

Everyone knew Williams would get the ball. It did not matter.

Williams went left, saw that the play was diagnosed, reversed field to head right and then made a big cut to the center of the field and lunged into the end zone for the game-winner.

It was a fitting ending to a fabulous game and performance.

The Tigers have now won 11 straight games since consecutive losses to John Ehret (46-41) and a 21-6 loss on Sept. 15 which dropped Hahnville to 1-2 on the season.

“We play hard games early in the year and it lets you know who you are, Saltaformaggio said. “There is no doubt it gets you better. We definitely got better after losing a couple of games early. We circled the wagons after the Brother Martin loss. We moved Dha’quan Jackson to quarterback. We simplified things. We got on a roll and have not looked back.”

Dillon Monette rushed 19 times for 128 yards for Acadiana.

Hahnville advances to its first state championship game appearance since winning the title in 2003 when the Tigers face fourth-seed Zachary next Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“I didn’t speak much this morning,” Saltaformaggio said. “We got in about 3 a.m. and I went to the office and put Zachary video on. We know they will be very tough. That is evident already, just watching tape. They went to West Monroe and won. That tells you what you need to know.”

Saltaformaggio gets a chance at a second state championship. In 2013, he led East Jefferson to an unbeaten 15-0 season and the 4A state title. He promptly left East Jefferson for Hahnville.

“This is why I came to Hahnville,” Saltaformaggio said. “We know we will always have good players, we have good facilities and we have a great community with passionate fans. It does not get any better than this experience.”

Now, fans from around the state will get to see Williams do his thing next Saturday night.

“Anthony gets to do it one more time,” Saltaformaggio said. “If fans haven’t seen him yet, it will be a real treat for him. He is special. Wait until you see him on the Superdome turf. I certainly cannot wait. We are going to ride Pooka, hopefully to a championship.”

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Ken Trahan

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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