DENHAM SPRINGS – It’s been a decade since Denham Springs coach Bill Conides last got an up-close look at Acadiana.
Not a lot’s changed since Conides, then an assistant at East St. John, suffered two defeats during the 2008 season at the hands of the Wreckin’ Rams, including a first-round exit in the Class 5A state playoffs.
“It’s a program and it’s the program that wins, not necessarily the Xs and Os,” Conides said. “The culture of the program wins, and they’ve got a great culture.”
It’s the type of mindset Conides would like to establish at Denham Springs, and two years into his tenure, the Yellow Jackets have displayed an upward turn.
A year after Denham Springs reached the state playoffs, the No. 19 Yellow Jackets (7-4) earned the right to host No. 3 Acadiana (10-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in a Class 5A state regional for only the second time in 23 years.
The game will be broadcast by 91.9-FM.
“This is huge,” said Conides, whose team is riding a season-high three-game win streak following a 17-14 upset of No. 14 Sam Houston. “To go from being 3-6 (in 2016) and then getting to the playoffs was a big deal. And then winning in the playoffs is a big deal. It’s kind of a natural progression of where a program should go.”
“A lot of people say it takes three years to turn around a program, Conides said. “Making the playoffs, and then winning in the first round is certainly making progress. By no stretch of the imagination are we done yet. The kids are beaming with confidence, and they should be. They’ve won three games in a row. It goes back to faith. They’ve never lost faith in each other or what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Denham Springs last played in a state quarterfinal in 1985.
To reach such a program milestone, the Yellow Jackets have to successfully navigate one of the state’s preeminent programs with the Wreckin’ Rams owning four state championships.
The climb will certainly be steep.
“They’re champions,” Conides said. “They play like it and conduct themselves like it. They’re very good at what they do. The difference team in this Acadiana team and the teams we had to play at East St. John is that these guys are a lot more athletic, especially on defense.”
The architect of Acadiana’s state-championship success, Ted Davidson, retired after last season’s run that ended in the state semifinals against Hahnville, which also ended Denham Springs’ season in the first round of the playoffs.
Former Rams quarterback and offensive line coach Matt McCullough has guided his first team to within a game perfection, winning its first five games until losing the grip on a 24-0 lead and falling, 31-30, to Comeaux on a last-second field goal.
Acadiana hasn’t lost since, winning five consecutive games that included last week’s 22-7 opening-round playoff win over Live Oak.
“There were some things that we needed to work on that sometimes you don’t work quite as hard on after you’re 5-0,” McCullough said. “It kind of showed some things we had to get better in and our guys have worked hard to fix them, and we’ve been playing well. It was actually kind of a wake-up call. I believe the loss to Comeaux helped us a bunch.”
Acadiana’s fabled veer attack, which has long been a staple of the program’s success, has produced a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Dillon Monette (143-1,122, 15 TDs) and Larryll Greene (155-1,108, 15 TDs).
“Goal No. 1 is we have to be more physical than they are at the point of attack,” Conides said. “Goal No. 2 is to be in the right position all the time. We can’t have any missed assignments defensively and force them to do things they don’t necessarily want to do.”
McCullough said DSHS presents its share of challenges on both sides of the ball.
“They’re a good team that has some weapons on offense,” he said. “The quarterback (Luke Lunsford) and running back (Treveon Muse) are good players along with the receivers. They’re big up front on the offensive line and defensively, they’ve got some athletes. You get to this point in the season, you’re going to play good teams. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Acadiana’s preference to try and hold onto the ball and conduct time-consuming drives will put a premium on DSHS’ offense to be efficient with its possessions, Conides said.
Muse has been a constant during the Jackets' recent win streak and leads the team with 254 carries for 1,356 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Lunsford has completed 151 of 273 passes for 2,424 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Receivers DJ Williams (41-993, 9 TDs) and Kaleb Drummer (40-591, 6 TDs) are the team’s leaders in receptions.
“I’ve heard we’ve got people (DSHS alumni) flying to this game,” Conides said. “Denham Springs football has always been a really big deal. One thing I wanted to do was make this community proud of this team because it means so much to so many different people. I think people are proud of our boys.”