DENHAM SPRINGS – Just when you thought you had witnessed everything possible in a high school football game, along came Denham Springs and Ponchatoula to leave you simply mesmerized.
In a blow-for-blow game that featured a combined 1,360 yards and 18 touchdowns the deciding margin came on a trick play the Green Wave borrowed from Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
“They’re great on offense,” Ponchatoula veteran coach Hank Tierney said of Denham Springs. “That’s (why) we went for two. We were just hoping we could stop them.”
Ponchatoula (1-1) decided to push its chips in the middle of the table after quarterback TJ Finley scored on a 1-yard sneak with 3:29 remaining and his team trailing 63-62.
After consecutive timeouts by both teams, the Green Wave ran a reverse pass or “Philly Special” – a play the Philadelphia Eagles scored on in the Super Bowl – with wide receiver Jacoby Matthews taking a reverse and throwing back to the 6-foot-6 Finley for the game-winning points.
“He knew he couldn’t stop us,” Denham Springs coach Bill Conides said. “That was a way to put the pressure back on us and they ran a reverse pass back the quarterback.”
Denham Springs, which three times battled back from two-touchdown deficits, crossed midfield on the final possession and into Ponchatoula territory on quarterback Luke Lunsford’s 21-yard pass to Brycen Longley to the Green Wave’s 32-yard line.
The Yellow Jackets (1-1) reached the 27 where on third-and-five, disaster struck when a high snap over Lunsford’s head resulted in a loss of 25 yards.
Lunsford recovered the ball at his 48-yard line and after a timeout, tried to initiate a hitch-and-pitch play but his pass was low and incomplete with 1:12 to go.
Ponchatoula's Finley knelt twice to run out the clock and bring a close to the near three-hour track meet.
“We just had a bad snap at the end,” Conides said. “We were doing a really good job of managing our time, running the football and we were in position to put (Jose) Ortega out there for a field goal.”
Finley, a junior LSU commitment, put on a dazzling display, completing 22 of 36 passes for 595 yards and 7 touchdowns, three of which went to Tyjae Spears (10-181).
“I’m old school,” Tierney said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“He got the ball out quick and it was tough for us to get to him,” Conides said of Finley, who accounted for 9 TDs and scored the game-winning 2-point play. “He’s got really good playmakers outside.”
While Ponchatoula rolled up 710 yards of offense, Denham Springs wasn’t far behind with 650.
Lunsford, in his first varsity season, completed 15 of 25 passes for 353 yards with an interception and 4 TDs. He also rushed 4 times for 49 yards and a pair of scores, including a heads-up 52-yarder on a quick count that resulted in the Yellow Jackets first lead at 63-56 with 6:41 remaining.
DSHS wide receiver D.J. Williams, a Northwestern State commitment, accounted for 297 yards of offense and two TDs – catching 6 passes for 220 yards and two scores. He added 77 yards on three carries.
“Coach put a lot of weight on me this week and I accepted the challenge and did it to the best of my ability,” Williams said. “My teammates helped me out. We battled and put it on the line.”
Senior running back Treveon Muse also carried a significant load, rushing 30 times for a career-best 188 yards and 3 TDs. He also added a 26-yard TD reception on a screen pass from Lunsford with 9:35 to go that tied the game for the fifth time at 56-56.
“You had to keep your head up the whole time,” Muse said. “Just have faith in the offense and the offensive line and keep making plays.”
Ponchatoula, which punted on its first series of third quarter, wound up scoring on its last four drives, answering Lunsford’s 52-yard scoring run with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that consumed just over two minutes.
The key play came on fourth-and-8 from the DSHS 26, when Finley fired a dart that Yellow Jackets defensive back Hayden Horne narrowly missed and wound up in the hands of Ponchatoula’s Ben Huber for a 23-yard pick up and a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line that led to Finley's 1-yard sneak.
“We kept the faith the defense was going to go out there and stop them,” Williams said. “It’s a long season and I’ve got faith in the whole season that we’re going to be OK.”
DSHS rallied from a two-touchdown deficit on the first play of the second quarter and controlled most of that period, pulling even at 35-all going into halftime.
Muse started the second quarter comeback on a 9-yard run over the right side and, following Ponchatoula’s first punt of the game, the Yellow Jackets drove 48 yards in 10 plays to tie the game once again.
Lunsford capped the drive with a 9-yard bootleg around left end, scoring untouched with 5:24 to go.
That punctuated a fast-paced opening half in which both teams combined for a staggering 729 yards of total offense.
Finley was on fire from the beginning with three of his first four passes going for touchdowns of 70, 67 and 65 yards for a 21-7 lead in just under five minutes of the first quarter.
DSHS faced two-touchdown deficits of 28-14 and 35-21 – the latter on a 78-yard TD pass from Finley to Tayvien Cole (8-205, 3 TDs) – when the Jackets got back into contention with consecutive scoring drives to close out the half.
“Our guys believed in each other right down to the end and I’m proud of that,” Conides said. “We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to be a better team because of this experience. I truly believe that.”
PONCHATOULA 64, DENHAM SPRINGS 63
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ponchatoula 28 7 14 15 - 64
Denham Springs 21 14 14 14 - 63
PHS – Tayvien Cole 76 pass from TJ Finley (Brandon King kick)
DS – Kaleb Drummer 14 pass from Luke Lunsford (Jose Ortega kick)
PHS – Tyjae Spears 67 pass Finley (King kick)
PHS – Jack Smith 65 pass from Finley (King kick)
DS – DJ Williams 58 pass from Luke Lunsford (Ortega kick)
PHS – Finley 1 run (King kick)
DS – Treveon Muse 3 run (Ortega kick)
PHS – Cole 78 pass from Finley (Ortega kick)
DS – Muse 7 run (Ortega kick)
DS – Lunsford 9 run (Ortega kick)
PHS – Spears 42 pas from Finley (King kick)
DS – Williams 80 pass from Lunsford (Ortega kick)
PHS – Spears 7 pass from Finley (King kick)
DS – Muse 13 run (Ortega kick)
PHS – Cole 18 pass from Finley (King kick)
DS – Muse 28 pass from Lunsford (Ortega kick)
DS – Lunsford 52 run (Ortega kick)
PHS – Finley 1 run (Matthews to Finley)
28 First Downs 26
32-115 Rushes-Yards 47-290
595 Passing Yards 360
22-36-0 C-A-I 15-25-1
2-33 Punts-Avg. 3-34.7
0-0 Fumbles-Lost 3-0
4-20 Penalties-Yards 8-61