There may have been a talent gap between Central and Denham Springs, but it didn’t stop the Wildcats from making big plays when they needed them Friday night.

Behind a gutsy effort from its defense, and Xavier Lewis’ 3-yard touchdown run with 3:28 left, Central edged Denham Springs 21-20 in a District 4-5A game at Central.

Denham Springs (4-4, 0-3 in 4-5A) had a first down at the CHS 19-yard line with two minutes to play but went backward from there. Torez Kinchen threw incomplete on fourth down, and Central ran out the clock to claim the win.

“It was determination,” Central coach Sid Edwards said. “We’re kind of undermanned, but we fight. In all my years of coaching, I’m as proud of this group as any, because they’re not supposed to do this. That makes it special.”

Lewis led Central (5-3, 2-1) with 108 yards rushing. Quarterback Gabe Brown completed 12 of 18 passes for 127 yards and also ran for a score. And Jearlmiah Ward’s 68-yard punt return gave the Wildcats a 7-0 first-quarter lead.

Part of Central’s strategy was keeping the ball away from Jackets running back and kick returner Tyre Golmond. The Wildcats employed pooch kickoffs and recovered two onside kicks in the third quarter.

Golmond, who finished with 162 yards rushing, had an 81-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The score put Denham Springs on top 20-14 late in the third quarter.

Defensively, lineman Caleb Roddy wreaked havoc with four sacks, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.

“We had a lot of missed opportunities. It’s disappointing,” DSHS coach Dru Nettles said. “There were too many penalties, and that’s on me. I’ve got to find a way to coach this team better. We gave away too many yards, and it cost us at the end.”

Penalties hurt the Jackets at the start of the third quarter after Central recovered an onside kick to open the half. Denham was flagged for two personal fouls helping Central drive 46 yards for its second touchdown.

Brown’s 2-yard run made it 14-6. After recovering a second onside kick, Central began driving again. The Wildcats reached the DSHS 30 before Roddy’s fumble recovery ended the threat.

The Jackets went 62 yards in five plays to close within 14-13. After forcing a punt, Golmond went 81 yards on the Jackets’ next play from scrimmage.

The first half was dotted with big plays although the defenses kept the offense in check.

Ward’s punt return gave the Wildcats a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Wildcats were ready to take that lead into halftime, but Denham Springs put together a last-minute drive.

Torez Kinchen’s 2-yard run finished off a 67-yard drive that ran off the final 40 seconds of the half.

Tyre Golmond’s 18-yard run started the drive. Kinchen’s 44-yard completion to Jeremy Watkins set up the short scoring run. Murry’s extra point try was wide left.

Central drove into Jackets’ territory twice. It reached the DSHS 29 late in the half, but Brown was sacked on fourth-and-9. Central misfired on its opening possession after moving inside the CHS 20. Cade Murry was wide right on a 29-yard field-goal try, and the game remained scoreless.