DENHAM SPRINGS – For 37 minutes, Denham Springs nearly found itself headed somewhere it hadn’t been in more than three decades.
The Yellow Jackets had battled four-time Class 5A state champion Acadiana on even terms for most of Friday’s state regional when quarterback Luke Lunsford gave his 19th-seeded team a seven-point lead with more than 10 minutes to play.
“We had a very intense week of practice,” Denham Springs offensive lineman Jake Evans. “Everybody was trying to kill each other. It kind of set the tone throughout the week and it showed up in the game.”
Third-seeded Acadiana showed its championship pedigree down the stretch, scoring touchdowns on its last three possessions – capped by Dillon Monette’s 13-yard scoring run and subsequent 2-point conversion with 5:13 to go – sending Denham Springs to a heartbreaking, 38-37, setback.
“We felt so good about our game plan,” Denham Springs coach Bill Conides said. “I thought it was fantastic the way our kids executed. I the kids played tremendous; coaches did a great job this week. You can’t ask for a better performance. One point (away).”
Denham Springs had one final opportunity to try and answer with the program’s first trip since 1985 to the state quarterfinals hanging in the balance.
The drive showed some promise when the Yellow Jackets reached midfield on Luke Lunsford’s 20-yard completion to Kaleb Drummer, but consecutive penalties resulted in second-and-26.
Lunsford’s 21-yard pass to Drummer set up third-and-five, but Lunsford was sacked for a 13-yard loss on third down and his fourth-down pass attempt under a heavy rush was overthrown and intercepted by Ian Montz at Acadiana’s 30-yard line with 1:28 showing.
Acadiana (11-1), which extended its win streak to six games, hosts sixth-seeded Zachary, a 41-20 winner over Hahnville.
“Denham came in and made some great plays,” Acadiana first-year coach Matt McCullough said. “I thought we battled, and our defense ended up coming up with some big stops at the end. It was a just good football game. Denham Springs is a really good football team.”
Denham Springs increased its seven-point halftime lead to 30-16, taking its first possession of the third quarter 80 yards in nine plays with Lunsford sneaking in for a 1-yard score on third-and-goal.
“I felt like that was it after we scored on our first possession after halftime,” Conides said. “It is, what it us and that’s how the ball bounces. I think they knew they got away with one.”
Acadiana’s comeback seemed all the more improbable trailing by 14 points and having its starting quarterback Keontae Williams knocked out of the game midway through the third quarter. Backup quarterback – wide receiver Jhase Elegamy – struggle to move the team in his four plays in replace of Williams.
Monette, who was injured in last week’s 22-7 win over Live Oak, missed two days of practice in preparation for Denham Springs and didn’t start in Acadiana’s backfield.
However, when the Rams needed him most, Monette flourished as the team’s emergency quarterback, directing the Rams on three consecutive scoring drives in the last 14 minutes of play, gaining 170 of 371 yards during that span.
“He was unbelievably explosive,” Conides said of Monette. “I thought the kid did a good job in a tense situation with the band and the crowd noise. I thought the kid did well.”
Acadiana scored on drives of 86, 12 and 72 yards, respectively with Monette completing one pass for 27 yards during his 20-play outing.
With the Rams rushing 23 times for 153 yards in the second – half for a ground game that finished with 342 yards on 53 attempts – running back Larryll Greene (17-165, 3 TDs) and Monette (18-124, TD) paved the way.
“In that situation we had to put a guy back there that was one of our best players and it worked out for us,” said McCullough, who noted Monette hadn’t previously taken a snap at quarterback during his career.
Lunsford bounced back from a pair of subpar performance to lead an offensive attack that generated 336 total yards.
He completed 15 of 24 passes for 270 yards with Drummer enjoying a career-type outing with four catches for 94 yards, including three touchdowns.
Longley led the Jackets in receiving with five catches for 53 yards, while DJ Williams added three receptions for 75 yards.
Running back Treveon Muse had a team-best 56 yards on 17 carries.
“We knew we had our backs against the wall,” Evans said. “It was either win or it’s the end of our season. All of the seniors got together, did their best and gave all of their effort. Everything just clicked.”
Fireworks were prevalent throughout the first half, spanning DSHS’ first defensive possession that resulted in an early safety, to the offense producing three touchdowns in four series for a 23-16 halftime lead.
The Jackets parlayed a 2-0 lead after a high snap sailed over the head of Acadiana punter Latrelle Charles and out of the back of the end zone.
The combination of Lunsford-to-Drummer took centerstage, the first time on a perfectly-thrown ball to Drummer on a corner route that resulted in a 9-yard score and 9-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.
“He was light’s out,” Conides said of Lunsford. “We went through and fixed some of the (previous) mistakes. I thought he played his best game of the season. He was phenomenal.”
The tandem of Lunsford-to-Drummer worked again on first-and-goal at the end of a 10-play, 75-yard drive, where Lunsford passed 8 yards to Drummer for a score and 16-8 lead to answer Greene’s 79-yard score on an option pitch.
Acadiana pulled even at 16-16 on another time-consuming drive of more than five minutes with Greene scoring on a 6-yard run and adding the two-point conversion with 4:58 remaining before halftime.
Drummer’s final score of the half was a thing of beauty. He took a tunnel screen pass from Lunsford near the DSHS sideline, darted past a defender before cutting upfield past another defender at the Rams’ 43-yard line, outrunning another defender to complete a 57-yard scoring play that broke a 16-all tie with 2:56 to play before halftime.
“The whole motto this week was, ‘why not us’?,” said Lunsford, who combined for five touchdowns with a pair of 1-yard runs. “We’re taking on the No. 3 team in the state. We believed in ourselves. We believed in coach Conides and all of the coaches. We believed in the game plan. It was there, and we executed. We just fell short.”
Acadiana 38, Denham Springs 37
Score By Quarters
Acadiana 8 8 6 14 8 - 38
Denham Springs 16 7 7 7 - 37
DSHS – Safety. Ball snapped out back of end zone
DSHS – Kaleb Drummer 9 pass from Luke Lunsford (Jose Ortega kick)
AHS – Larryll Greene 79 run (Greene run)
DSHS – Drummer 8 pass from Luke Lunsford (Ortega kick)
AHS – Greene 6 run (Keontae Williams run)
DSHS – Drummer 57 pass from Lunsford (Ortega kick)
DSHS – Lunsford 1 run (Ortega kick)
AHS – Greene 7 run (run failed)
DSHS – Lunsford 1 run (Ortega kick)
AHS – Monette 13 run (Monette run)
First Downs 22 13
Rushes-Yards 53-342 26-66
Passing Yards 29 270
C-A-I 2-4-0 15-24-1
Punts-Avg. 1-(-4) 3-33.3
Fumbles-Lost 6-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-50 13-99