Denham Springs defensive lineman Nick Carlton was clearly frustrated.
The Yellow Jackets had been eliminated from the Class 5A state playoffs in the first round, falling, 42-21, at eventual state runners-up Hahnville, when Carlton shared his feelings with an assistant coach.
It wasn’t that Denham Springs lost a game, but the manner in which the Yellow Jackets did do, failing to maintain pace with the dangerous Tigers once Yellow Jackets’ linebacker Brennan Leblanc had returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown.
Denham Springs had gotten itself back in the game, trailing by a touchdown in the third quarter, when All-State running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams darted 61 yards for a score on his way to a 303-yard, 5-touchdown effort.
The Yellow Jackets never recovered, prompting Carlton to voice his displeasure afterward and in doing so, shaped the team’s offseason focus with a catch-phrase that appeared on the backs of the team’s workout shirts and became the team’s refrain for the 2018 season.
“Never again” took root and later blossomed.
“I wasn’t going through that again,” Carlton recalled. “Never again was I going to feel like that.”
Fast-forward a year and Denham Springs (6-4) finds itself back in postseason play where the Yellow Jackets showed off their grit and determination just to reach this point.
Needing two wins in its final two games No. 19 Denham Springs dug down deep, overcoming a pair of two-touchdown deficits in consecutive weeks to win both games and earn a first-round road trip to No. 14 Sam Houston (8-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in Moss Bluff.
The game will be broadcast by 91.9-FM.
“We’re hitting on all cylinders for the first time all season,” Denham Springs coach Bill Conides said. “This is a really good time to get hot. I was waiting for the consistency and feel like we’re starting to get it. Good teams know when to crank it up and our goal is to get a home (regional) game next week and give our seniors one more chance to play on that (home) field.”
Carlton said he couldn’t be prouder of his team, not only for the way its responded in back-to-back, must-win games, but for the character displayed throughout the season.
He’s hoping it can carry on a little longer.
“I feel like we have more a team,” said Carlton, who has 32 tackles and seven stops for losses. “There’s no quit on this team. We came from behind in several games this year. When we’re pinned in the corner, we always find a way to fight through. I have a lot of faith in this team because we never give up and have faith in what we’re doing.”
Sam Houston, a which experienced a four-win improvement over last season, is hosting its first playoff game since 2009 and first since moving up to Class 5A in 2011.
The Broncos achieved the feat behind a defense, led by 6-foot-5, 250-pound lineman Jacob Humphrey, that’s yielded nearly 20 fewer points (20.8) and 110 less total yards (309) over last season.
Westlake senior linebacker transfer Morgan Harlow is the team’s leading tackler with 136 stops.
Offensively, the Broncos are led by Yale running back commitment Gerron Duhon (161 carries, 1,203 yards, 17 TDs) and now count of freshman quarterback Luke Yuhasz, who replaced injured starter Kyle Bartley.
“They remind us of us, especially the defensive personnel,” Conides said. “They play hard on defense, are aggressive and they like to blitz. It’s going to be up to us to be consistent, stay ahead of the chains and when we get the ball, we need to score.”
DSHS counters with junior quarterback Luke Lunsford, who has completed 143 of 251 passes for 2,397 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Senior running back Treveon Muse is the team's leading rusher with 224 carries for 1,124 yards and 13 TDs.
Sam Houston responded to a two-game losing streak against District 3-5A heavyweights Acadiana (35-10) and Barbe (40-28) with wins over Lafayette (56-14) and New Iberia (28-21), neither of which made the playoffs.
Conides believes his team will benefit from a schedule that features eight teams in the state playoffs, including all but one team from District 4-5A. Throw in a preseason scrimmage against District 5-5A champion Catholic High and jamboree outing with postseason-bound Dutchtown, both of which were on the road, and the Jackets, riding a two-game win streak, are a well-season team headed back on the road in postseason play with one strong reminder from a year ago.
“If you believe in your teammates and you believe in your coaches, I think we have a chance to do some damage this year,” Carlton said. “We need to come out strong. If we do that and play with consistency, I don’t feel there’s a team that can beat us.”