PONCHATOULA – Denham Springs football coach Bill Conides saw some of the growth he was looking for from his team in Friday’s game at Ponchatoula.
But in the grand scheme of things, the Yellow Jackets still have a some more work to do.
Luke Lunsford’s fourth-down pass from the Ponchatoula 20-yard line was broken up in the end zone, turning the ball over with 7.3 seconds left to solidify the Green Wave’s 31-24 victory over the Yellow Jackets at The Swamp.
“A couple plays away,” Conides said after his team dropped to 0-2. “We’re a lot closer this week than we were last week. I think collectively, it was a massive, massive improvement. We’re getting closer. Ultimately at the end, receivers need to make catches, and we didn’t make catches. We had guys open and we didn’t get it.”
Denham’s last-gasp drive started when Ponchatoula quarterback TJ Finley, an LSU commitment, was dropped for a 7-yard loss on third down, setting up a 12-yard punt, which put the Yellow Jackets in business at its own 42 with no timeouts.
Lunsford hit Troy Golmond for 13 yards, and the Green Wave was flagged for pass interference two plays later, moving the ball to the PHS 29. Lunsford threw two incomplete passes before hitting Golmond for 9 yards on third down.
That set up his final throw to the end zone on the next play, which was broken up by Elijah Winters.
“I don’t think we’re far (off) at all,” Conides said. “We’re waiting for these pups to make a play. That’s it. We’re just waiting for them to make a play, and we’re in position to do it. Just had a lot of drops. Had a lot of drops and we needed catches. We had guys open on wheel routes and just didn’t make the play.”
Conides stressed a fast start for his against the Green Wave, and that worked to plan when Leo Montanez recovered Braydon Johnson’s fumble on the first play of the game at the Green Wave 31, setting up Jaylen Jenkins’ 15-yard TD run for a 7-0 lead.
Neither team threatened again until the Green Wave (1-1) took over at the DSHS 34 following a punt. The drive ended on a 40-yard field goal by Jake Leitz after DSHS' Kaydon Berard sacked Finley for a 14-yard loss on third down, cutting the lead to 7-3 with 3:15 to play in the first quarter.
“Berard was just – and the thing was, he was getting held all night and he’s just beating it and making plays on the quarterback,” Conides said. “He was excellent. Tristan Duhe, he is just off the charts. He is a Division I linebacker, and he’s off the chart – great football player. He’s great at that position (middle linebacker). He’s just getting better and better at it.”
Denham’s Gavin Weidenbacher nailed a 66-yard punt, which pinned Ponchatoula at its own 6, but the Green Wave got out of the jam when Finley connected with Kody Finley, who sprinted down the right sideline on an 84-yard touchdown, helping PHS to a 10-7 lead with 8:54 to play in the first half.
The Yellow Jackets answered on the fourth play of their next drive when quarterback John McDaniel, who started the game in place of Lunsford, hit Golmond on a 53-yard touchdown pass for a 14-10 lead.
The Green Wave got some help from DSHS when a roughing the kicker call on fourth down, and a pass interference penalty, on third-and-six at the Ponchatoula 40 kept the ensuing drive going.
It culminated when TJ Finley, who finished 7-for-22 for 195 yards, found Jacoby Mathews over the middle on a 34-yard TD pass, helping give the Green Wave a 17-14 lead, which it carried into halftime.
After forcing a DSHS punt on the first series of the third quarter, Ponchatoula went to work on another scoring drive. The Wave stung the Yellow Jackets on third down twice on the march, with the Finleys connecting for 25 yards on third-and-10 from the DSHS 44, and TJ Finley hitting Mathews for a 21-yard TD on a play in which he was flushed out the pocket and scrambled to his left, helping the Wave take a 24-14 lead.
With Lunsford at the helm, Denham got moving on its ensuing possession, as an illegal substitution call against PHS on fourth-and-5 at the DSHS 49 kept things rolling.
The momentum swung a bit more pronounced in the Yellow Jackets’ favor when Hayden Horne kept for a 12-yard gain on a fake punt on fourth-and-8 from the PHS 44.
“We kind of put it on our seniors,” Conides said of the play. “Hayden Horne is a senior and he made a great play, and we needed a spark, and that’s exactly what happened. It was a designed pass and the guy covered it, so he (Horne) took off.”
That set up Lunsford’s 9-yard TD pass to Phillip Earnhart, cutting the lead to 24-21.
From there, Ponchatoula went on its longest drive of the night, marching to the DSHS 11-yard line in 11 plays after taking over at its own 24. The drive hit a snag when the Green Wave got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and holding and TJ Finley was dropped for a 7-yard loss, setting up a third-and-39 from the DSHS 40.
Ponchatoula escaped that jam when Amorion Walker raced around the right side on a reverse for a 40-yard touchdown, pushing the lead to 31-21.
“Hindsight, do we decline the penalty? I don’t know, but he (Walker) made really good play – a play that we saw every day in practice, and we just couldn’t make the play,” Conides said. “We do it every day in practice, so ultimately, when it comes down to it, we have to apply the good things we’re doing in practice and apply it to the game, and when we do that, we’re going to be a really, really good team.”
Denham Springs, which had 282 yards of total offense, mixed its short passing game with the run on its ensuing drive, and a personal foul against the Green Wave helped move the ball to the PHS 40. On fourth-and-9, Lunsford scrambled for 9 yards to pick up a first down.
The drive ended on Cameron Beall’s 34-yard field goal, accounting for the final score with 2:42 left.
Denham Springs attempted an on-side kick, which the Green Wave recovered, and the ensuing drive set up the game’s frantic finish.
“I didn’t do us any favors with the schedule, and I knew that, but this is a really good challenge for us,” Conides said. “This is what I call healthy adversity. These are things that we learn from and improve, and we’ve got another good team (St. Amant) next week.”
Ponchatoula 31, Denham Springs 24
Score By Quarters
Denham Springs 7 7 7 3 -- 24
Ponchatoula 3 14 7 7 -- 31
DSHS – Jaylen Jenkins 15 run (Cameron Beall kick)
PHS – Jake Leitz 40 FG
PHS – Kody Finley 84 pass from TJ Finley (Leitz kick)
DSHS – Troy Golmond 53 pass from John McDonald (Beall kick)
PHS – Jacoby Mathews 34 pass from TJ Finley (Leitz kick)
PHS – Kody Finley 21 pass from TJ Finley (Leitz kick)
DSHS – Phillip Earnhart 9 pass from Luke Lunsford (Beall kick)
PHS – Amorion Walker 40 run (Leitz kick)
DSHS – Beall 34 FG
First Downs 17 15
Rushes-Yards 38-151 31-107
Passing Yards 131 195
C-A-I 13-28-0 7-22-0
Punts-Avg. 4-39.75 3-28.33
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 5-55 8-75