Brett Beard’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing. And when it’s not ringing, the tone that announces the arrival of yet another text message goes off.
Such is life for the Live Oak High football coach after his team pulled off the upset no one expected. Live Oak edged Livingston Parish rival Denham Springs High 16-14 in a District 4-5A opener at DSHS Thursday night.
O.K., it’s not Paul Revere’s shot heard around the world, but it is definitely notable locally, especially in 4-5A. It was the Eagles’ first win over Denham Springs in a varsity football game. LOHS moved up to 5A with the Yellow Jackets in 2009. And it came a year after DSHS beat Live Oak 64-20.
“My phone hasn’t stopped all day,” Beard said during a Friday break from class. “It’s either somebody calling or a text that says ‘Congratulations.’
“That’s all been great. The big thing is all of us as coaches are so proud of these kids. But you know, we’re the only ones who believed it was possible.”
With the win, Live Oak (4-2, 1-0) adds to the possible drama in the 4-5A race. Denham Springs (4-2, 0-1) returned much of its lineup from a year ago and is listed among the top contenders with seventh-ranked Zachary High and Scotlandville.
Most of Live Oak’s starters are new. And so is Beard, who rebuilt Woodlawn High into a playoff team in just two years. The former Vanderbilt and Southeastern Louisiana University lineman isn’t afraid to use whatever tools he can find for a rebuild.
Instead of just building on victories, Beard challenged his team to take key elements learned in losses to St. Amant and West Feliciana. Another loss, WFHS’ loss to University High, also factored in.
The first obstacle was to get the Eagles past a 35-13 loss to St. Amant that opened the season. Beard reminded his players the St. Amant game was their first with a new system and coaching staff. St. Amant, a team with a staff and system in place, was where LOHS wanted to be.
A 28-27 loss to Class 3A power WFHS in Week 3 was telling in a different way.
“So much of it is a mindset,” Beard said. “Some programs are told they should accept losing. And 10 minutes after the game, you’re laughing like you didn’t lose.
“That changed the week we played West Feliciana. We were down 12-0 and then came back and we were so close. They made a couple of plays at the end that made the difference and it showed us what we needed to work on.
“But the big thing was that one hurt. The players saw the hurt on our faces as coaches. And they hurt too. They really felt that loss.”
Beard also found other ways to build on the loss. He pointed out West Feliciana was a Class 3A semifinalist a year and ago and very talented. And when WFHS played top-ranked University High of 3A toe-to-toe before losing, Beard had another message for the Eagles.
“See how close you are,” Beard told his team. “This proves it.”
Proving that point against Denham Springs was a taller order. Beard and his coaches stressed the possibilities and kept it simple. A 30-yard field goal by Nathan Holliday with 1:10 remaining was the game winner for the Eagles, who held Denham Springs one final time defensively.
“We knew physicality was going to be so important,” Beard said. “We knew Denham Springs was bigger and their goal was to push us around. We challenged our guys to make sure that didn’t happen.
“We told them ‘Don’t let it be like every other time you’ve played them.’ When we held their own, we knew something special was possible.”
Like many others, Beard planned to watch Scotlandville (5-0) take on Zachary (4-1) Friday night at ZHS. And yes, he sees plenty of possibilities in 4-5A. Another Livingston team on the upswing, unbeaten Walker (5-0), hosts Central (3-2).
“I think you’ve got a group of teams that can be very good,” Beard said. “Not just one or two. This should be fun.”
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