DENHAM SPRINGS – Before playing the game, Denham Springs High School doesn’t want to get caught by the name.
Or more specifically, the block ‘Z’ that adorns the helmets worn by Zachary, which has risen to statewide prominence, winning two of the past three Class 5A state championships, including last season.
The No. 6 Broncos (4-2 overall, 2-0 in District 4-5A), which visit Denham Springs (4-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m., Friday, cast quite a shadow.
The game will be broadcast locally by 91.9-FM
“A lot of people get worried about the Z on the helmet,” DSHS wide receiver Brycen Longley said. “That doesn’t mean anything when you’ve put in the work and you work hard, then you can do anything you want to.”
DSHS second-year coach Bill Conides acknowledged the challenge that comes along for teams encountering brand names such as Zachary and John Curtis.
“Right now, they’ve done a tremendous job with that program to where that letter represents a lot,” Conides said of Zachary. “A lot of times, teams like that win the game before they even step on the field. We have to go beyond that and play it as what it is: a district contest with an opportunity to try and knock off the king.”
A year after taking over a DSHS program ravaged by the Great Flood of 2016, Conides guided the Yellow Jackets to a 6-5 overall record, complete with a first-round playoff exit at Hahnville.
DSHS finds itself in the midst of a four-game stretch of games still having to face the league’s co-leading teams in Zachary and Central. The Yellow Jackets, who are tied for second with Walker, also find themselves with an unofficial No. 24 power rating or outside the Top 16 needed to host a first-round game.
“We’ve got to picture them like they’re any other team,” DSHS linebacker Davion Nassri, a Southeastern Louisiana commitment. “We just have to play our brand of football and it’s going to be fine. We have to play like we know we can, and we’ll be fine.”
The key for the Yellow Jackets is being able piece together a complete game, an objective they’re still working toward.
There have been hints of sterling play from either side of the ball, for a quarter or a half, but in taking on the challenge of facing Zachary will require much more, Conides said.
“We have to play our best game,” he said. “We have to click on all cylinders. It’s like any game, we have to be efficient on first down and eliminate third and long, and on defense we have to be in position to make plays and ultimately make tackles. It seems like every year around this time is when Zachary plays their best football.”
Zachary’s junior quarterback Keilon Brown, the MVP in last year’s state title game, serves as the Broncos' catalyst for an offense averaging 30 points per outing.
“We have to stop the run game early,” said Nassri, the team’s second-leading tackler with 37 stops. “If we do that, we think we have a better chance because that’s what they like to do. We just need to make some plays out there.”
First-year starting quarterback Luke Lunsford has provided DSHS with a big-play ability, having passed for 1,720 yards and 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
The Jackets are averaging 15.2 yards per reception with Northwestern State commitment DJ Williams (23-754, 8 TDs) leading a balanced receiving corps that includes Kaleb Drummer (21-327, 4 TDs), Longley (20-230-2) and Hunter Bond (16-268-3).
“It’s a very important game but we still have to approach it like it’s one game,” Longley said. “We have to climb the mountain. It’s no different than any other game. We had to prepare for it. It’s a big challenge but I think we’re up for it.”
Conides said one aspect of his team’s offense that needs to improve is the running game that’s been limited to 120 yards on 46 carries the past two weeks.
Leading rusher Treveon Muse, who’s rushed 107 times for 502 yards and 9 TDs overall, has been slowed over that span to 85 yards on 34 attempts (2.5 yards per carry).
“This is a tremendous opportunity to see how far this program has come, how far the boys have come,” Conides said. “Hopefully we get a positive result.”