WALKER – Walker safety Calvin Watson recalled walking out for the team’s pregame warm-ups where he first experienced an atmosphere unlike any other.
That was two years ago when the Wildcats ended a 15-year postseason drought, hosting the school’s first Class 5A state playoff game that took a dramatic turn for the worse in the second half against Ouachita Parish.
What had all the earmarks of a memorable occasion turned decidedly sour when the visitors from Monroe ran roughshod with 774 total yards, handing the Wildcats a 67-37 setback.
“The opening kickoff was loud; the crowd was booming and on defense you could barely hear,” Watson recalled. “But I don’t think we were mentally prepared for the game.”
After a 15-year wait in between playoff trips and first in the state’s highest classification, Walker decided not to wait as long for another opportunity at postseason glory.
The Wildcats, led by a 20-plus member senior class – the winningest (26-16) in school history – have already displayed the ability to focus on the task at hand, keeping their season from coming apart at the seams after a coaching change threatened to derail the season.
What’s transpired has been one of the school’s best regular seasons in history with Cecil Thomas being elevated from offensive line coach to interim coach and guiding Walker to an 8-2 record, District 4-5A runners-up finish and home playoff game.
No. 11 Walker hosts No. 22 Hahnville (5-5) at 7 p.m. Friday in a first-round contest. The Wildcats were a perfect 5-0 at home this season.
“It would be a real big win for us,” said Thomas, who was named the team’s permanent head coach on Monday. “It’s real big for our program to get that first (Class 5A) playoff win and keep making history for the program. It’s good for the senior class with what they’ve done and to be able to go out on top and do the best they can. It’s important for us to finish what we started.”
That Walker’s senior class finds itself in postseason play for a third consecutive year is a testament to its unwavering commitment to the program and each other.
When second-year coach Lester Ricard and defensive coordinator Marcus Brown resigned on Sept. 11, they didn’t blink after a rigorous offseason had prepared them for heightened expectations brought on by a first-round playoff loss at Landry-Walker (14-7) in 2017.
“We’ve overcome so much adversity this year,” Watson said. “We couldn’t let that stop us from our road to the Dome. We had to fight through that. Our seniors helped keep the underclassmen on the right path and not to give up. Just to keep fighting.”
When it comes to dealing with adversity, Walker has company this season.
Hahnville, which lost to Zachary in last year’s Class 5A state championship game, played the first nine weeks without projected starting quarterback Andrew Robison, who was initially declared ineligible by the LHSAA following his transfer from Vandebilt Catholic.
The LHSAA also denied an appeal by Robison, who was declared eligible on Oct. 30 by an independent arbiter. The senior played in the Tigers 48-0 regular-season finale over H.L. Bourgeois, completing 13 of 19 passes for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three quarters of play.
“They were very vanilla up until Week 10 with what they were doing offensively,” Thomas said. “I know the kid had a good history at the other school, so we know he can sling it. We’ve been tested all year with good quarterbacks in our league. The quarterbacks we’ve faced have helped us get ready to face this kid.”
The 6-foot, 192-pound Robison passed for 4,764 yards (363 of 635) with 54 TDs and 16 interceptions in two seasons at Vandebilt. He also rushed 109 times for 735 yards and 9 TDs.
Hahnville was 1-4 midway through the season before reeling off four wins in its last five games.
“We’ve got to stick to our drops and make sure you make the tackle,” Watson said. “We want to keep the run and quarterback contained. We’re going to do whatever we can to not let anyone catch the ball.”
For only the second time this season, Walker must rebound from defeat.
The Wildcats had their three-game win streak snapped in last week’s regular-season finale, 35-21, where Central rushed for 247 yards and outgained them, 374-251.
Quarterback Ethan McMasters has completed 130 of 211 passes for 2,163 yards with 21 TDs and nine interceptions with Brian Thomas (45-1,043, 7 TDs) and Jalen Cook (44-600, 9 TDs) serving as his chief targets.
“Everyone’s going to be here, but you can’t let the crowd affect your game,” Watson said. “You have to keep playing throughout all the noise. We just have to overcome that Friday.”