DENHAM SPRINGS – With quarterback Jimmy Dale Lefleur running behind a pair of his all-State offensive linemen – center Andy Netterville and guard James Holdman – Denham Springs appeared to be running right into the school’s history books.
The Yellow Jackets, holding an eight-point lead over Hahnville with approximately four minutes remaining in the 1972 Class 3A state championship game being played in Boutte, were faced with less than a yard for a first down.
With Hahnville’s defense “selling out” in the words for former Denham Springs defensive line coach Butch Wax, the Yellow Jackets were not only turned away once, but twice, on the same play – a sneak by Lefleur – outside of their own 20-yard line.
“If I had to make that call, I thought we made it on third down,” Wax said. “But on fourth down, there was no question we didn’t make it. Had we executed that play we would have been the ones holding the (state championship) trophy.”
Instead they had to deal with a cruel twist of fate.
Hahnville responded after the huge swing in momentum, drove in for a touchdown and converted a game-tying two-point conversion in the final minute of play for a 26-26 tie.
With a limited amount of time remaining Denham Springs, a run-oriented team under head coach Louis “Loody” Carlise, learned before its last series that it was faced with three options in order to win its first state championship:
Gain three first downs, score a touchdown or kick a field goal.
With less than a minute left it turned into mission impossible.
Lefleur completed one pass on the drive that was well in front of Hahnville’s defense, which played well off the line to keep the ball in front of them, solidifying a 26-26 tie that sent the homestanding Tigers celebrating and home crowd into a frenzy.
Before the LHSAA eventually adopted overtime in state championship games a year later, they determined the eventual winner by the team that had the most first downs.
In this case, after 48 minutes in a game that produced a deadlock, Hahnville was declared state champions by virtue of its 16-13 edge in first down over Denham Springs.
“What we got came from the press box was that we needed three first downs,” Wax said going into their final offensive series. “I don’t know who kept the official first downs, maybe a sportswriter. It was a big disappointment. I felt like our guys believed they played well enough to win. It just slipped away. It was a chance you don’t get very often. At Denham, that was the only one e’ve had.”
Approximately half of that 44-member team (eight are now deceased) is expected to be on hand Friday where they’ll be recognized at halftime of the Denham Springs-Hahnville season opener at 7 p.m.
Wax, one of two remaining coaches from Carlisle’s staff that’s still living along with Bobby Satcher, plans to be in attendance to catch up with former players, reminisce about the greatest 11-man team in school history and undoubtedly swap stories about their state championship game experience 47 years ago.
“On that team, there were not only good players, but good citizens,” Wax said. “They were the kind of kids you loved to coach. They would do anything and everything you would ask them.”
Denham Springs, who had eventual college signees such as seniors Andy Netterville (LSU), James Holdman (Northwestern State), Dale Zuelke (Nicholls), Larry Evans (Nicholls) and David Felps (Southwest Mississippi Community College), finished with a 12-1-1 record.
The Yellow Jackets had forged a 5-0 record, having only giving up 13 points with three shutouts, before Redemptorist emerged with a 20-3 victory in the sixth week of the regular season.
“The Redemptorist game was a turning point for us,” said Wax, who eventually became the school’s winningest head coach after a 22-year career (152-84-2) and later served as principal until 2010. “We felt we were a better team than Redemptorist, but the ball bounced crazy that game and we got beat. I think we all talked about wanting to meet Redemptorist one more time. The only way was to make it to the state finals.”
Denham Springs lived up to its end of the bargain in convincing fashion, outscoring its last four opponents 110-0 and wound up as co-champions of District 7-3A along with Redemptorist.
“I know we felt like we were going to have a pretty good team, but we didn’t know how successful,” Wax said. “We’re always talking about trying to win a state championship and that’s your ultimate goal. That didn’t start setting in until later in the year and into the playoffs. Pretty soon, the kids are believing in themselves and what you’re doing, and it becomes a reality.”
Wax said the team’s ground-oriented approach came to life behind Marvin Murray, who was Denham Springs’ primary running back, but the Yellow Jackets also counted on Alex Clark and James Ray Clark as well.
Because of an injury during the regular season to Murray, Alex Clark became the focal point of the team’s ground game and rushed for close to 500 yards during the playoffs, Wax said.
The defense was a constant throughout the regular season, yielding a total of 33 points and registering seven shutouts, with nose guard Herbert Mitchell serving as a catalyst along with Holmand, who played tackle, Wax said.
“We had some really good players, they played extremely well,” Wax said. “It was quite a run for the defensive side.”
The arrival of postseason resulted in Denham Springs, despite a sterling 9-1 record, having to travel to Lutcher for the first round, emerging with an impressive 27-0 victory – the team’s eighth shutout of the season.
“We had convinced our kids they were underdogs, so it felt more like an upset than some games we had played before,” Wax said. “It was a confidence builder. Each time we went out and played it was a momentum type thing that took place and continued to believe in themselves.”
Denham Springs earned a home game in the second round, defeating Morgan City 21-7, to advance to the state semifinals where they were at home again, persevering with a 19-15 triumph over Haughton.
The game wasn’t decided until Felps, a tight end, pulled a Haughton defender across the goal line after catching a pass for the winning score, sending the Yellow Jackets to the state championship game, Wax said.
“Haughton was the most difficult game of the year, we were fortunate to have won that one,” Wax said. “Running was the name of the game and that’s what we did. We were able to throw a couple of passes that were touchdowns for us. It was exciting and knowing that it got us to the state final.”
Wax recalled the synergy the team’s remarkable season created throughout a community that was totally smitten with its team. With each passing week, more and more businesses were adorned with signs of support out front or windows were painted in the school’s purple and gold colors, Wax said.
The final chapter in the 1972 season was headed for a storybook ending where after trailing 18-14 at halftime, Denham Springs increased a two-point lead to 26-18 in the fourth quarter.
The Yellow Jackets later found themselves in position to seal the game and the school’s first 11-man state title, faced with the crucial third-and-one and subsequent fourth-and-one plays in which Hahnville twice denied LeFleur on two running attempts.
“We played well enough to have won the game,” Wax said. “We had some mistakes that may have cost us, but that’s all part of it. They (Hahnville) played well and my hat was off to them.
“It’s still a heartbreaker for everybody,” Wax said. “For everyone in Denham Springs, who was around at that time and in some way had a part in it, it’s something that’s part of your life. It was definitely one the community remembers. It was quite an experience.”