If the Live Oak football program reaches the heights coach Brett Beard envisions, the Eagles will surely look back on last Thursday’s 16-14 victory over Denham Springs as a watershed moment.

Not only had Live Oak never beaten the Yellow Jackets, they had usually been blown out.

This year, Denham Springs returned most of the key pieces from a team that reached the second round of the playoffs in 2014, and Live Oak had a new head coach in Beard and plenty of rebuilding to do.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy — that’s for sure,” Live Oak defensive back Cade Guillory said. “We just had to go in there and rely on what we had been taught.”

Sophomore kicker Nathan Holliday made up for missing a late extra point when he connected on a 30-yard field goal with 1:10 left, helping Live Oak open District 4-5A play with its first win against Denham Springs in seven all-time meetings.

Denham had beaten Live Oak 64-20 a year earlier.

“As long as you stay even-keeled and don’t make mistakes at the end, you’ve got a chance,” Beard said. “We didn’t make mistakes and just kept battling.”

How the Eagles (4-2) handle the headlines they made in Week 6 could determine whether they make the playoffs for only the second time since their 2009 move to 5A.

The focus now turns to a home game against Walker and the chance to finish unbeaten against their two Livingston Parish rivals.

Walker enters Friday’s game on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.

The Wildcats were off to a rare 5-0 start before losing a 55-25 home game to Central in their district opener. Walker trailed only 21-13 before giving up 28 points in the third quarter.

Where the Wildcats will test Live Oak is in the passing game.

Walker quarterback Terry Bozeman, held to 150 yards passing by Central’s stingy secondary, ranks among the state’s passing leaders for the second straight year with 1,482 yards through the air. Sophomore receiver Darius Hampton is one of the top young talents in the district.

Live Oak hasn’t seen a passing attack like Walker’s since St. Amant quarterback Hayden Mallory passed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-13 victory to open the season.

The Eagles will find out Friday how much their pass defense has improved.

They will also find out if they have moved beyond one of the biggest wins in Live Oak history.

“It’s a good achievement for us,” Guillory said of beating Denham, “but we can’t dwell on it. We have to focus on Walker. We can’t slack up.”

Other action in 4-5A this week has Denham (4-2) heading to Zachary (5-1) for the third meeting of the teams in two years.

Zachary survived a 28-24 thriller against the Yellow Jackets in the regular season last year, then returned to Yellow Jacket Stadium in the second round of the playoffs and took a 35-10 victory en route to the state semifinals.

Zachary won a 49-46 nailbiter against Scotlandville on Friday in its district opener.

Key to beating the Broncos is containing quarterback Lindsey Scott, the reigning 5A Offensive Player of the Year and a recent Syracuse commitment.

Nettles escorts daughter

Denham Springs coach Dru Nettles was poised and matter-of-fact while discussing his team’s heart-wrenching loss to Live Oak after the game Thursday.

The one time he became emotional was when asked about donning a suit and tie at halftime to escort his daughter, senior maid Claire Nettles, during homecoming festivities.

“The daughter that was out there and my daughter standing here,” Nettles said, his arm draped around younger daughter Faith after the game, “that’s the two greatest things I’ve got. I love them to death.”

Nettles joined other fathers escorting their daughters on the homecoming court during halftime, then quickly changed back into his usual polo and khakis to coach the Yellow Jackets in the second half.

Albany starts district play

Cheyenne Labruzza led an Albany rushing attack that churned out 475 yards in a 52-6 victory over Grace King on Friday as the Hornets completed a 5-1 run through their nondistrict schedule.

Labruzza had 231 yards and three touchdowns on only five attempts, followed by Kamryn Mayers with 159 yards and four touchdowns on 12 rushes.

Albany scored 20 points in the third quarter to extend a 20-0 halftime lead.

Now comes a major step up in competition as the Hornets, who faced six teams with two combined wins in nondistrict play, open 7-3A action on Friday with a home game against Jewel Sumner.

Sumner (2-4) posted one of Week 6’s most surprising scores by beating Amite 21-20 in the district opener for those teams.

Scott Hotard covers sports for The Livingston-Tangipahoa Advocate. He can be contacted at shotard44@gmail.com or livingston@the advocate.com.