With 1:28 remaining in the first half and Ferriday tied with Amite High 14-14 with the ball at their own 21-yard line, I turned to ace photographer Wes Faulk and said. “I would just be happy with this and go into the dressing room with momentum and the ball to start the second half.”
It had been a crazy first half. Amite used a 70-yard fumble return after Warrior linebacker Java Gilmore stripped Ferriday quarterback Kobe Dillon of the ball and sprinted down the sideline to put Amite up 14-0.
Ferriday battled back behind Dillon to tie the game at 14-14.
The Trojans fumbled the ball on the Amite 8-yard to kill a drive.
And this is why I am writing about the game instead of coaching it.
And more important, this is why Ferriday High is playing for a state championship Friday.
Ferriday head coach Stanley Smith and his coaching staff were not about to concede going into the locker room tied with the team that put them out in the semifinals last year.
“We knew we could move the ball,” Smith said. “And that’s why you defer if you win the toss to start the game. If you get it right before the half you have a 2-for-1. It was like an extra possession.”
An incomplete pass was followed by a 5-yard pass to Sebastian Turner.
Dillon then ran 17 yards to the Trojan 42-yard line.
Dillon connected with Justin Burns to the Amite 46-yard line.
An incomplete pass stopped the clock with 43 seconds remaining.
A short pass to Turner gained a yard before Dillon tucked the ball and ran to the 23-yard line with 33 seconds remaining.
Dillon ran for two and threw an incomplete pass.
Dillon then passed to Blake Tarver for five yards to the 15.
With 11 seconds remaining, Dillon split through the Amite line and raced almost untouched for a secure with five seconds remaining.
Byron Milligan ran in the conversion for a 22-14 halftime lead.
Stanley Smith has brought the swagger back to Ferriday High.
Since being named head coach in March of 2017, Smith has taken the Trojans to the semifinals three straight years, playing for a state title Friday.
When Smith played football at Ferriday from 1997-2000 he wore a Superman shirt under his jersey and epitomized what the longtime Ferriday nickname Junkyard Dog meant.
When Smith took the job, he knew his alma mater no longer bought out the fear in its opponents. Which is why he did not allow any member of the 2017 Ferriday football team to even mention JYD until it was earned.
“I think the difference between the team then and now is why are we playing the game,” Smith said when he was hired. “We played the game because we loved the game. I think a lot of them now are playing for outside influences instead of wanting to be great. We wanted to be great when I played - we wanted to be the best. We’re working toward that. It’s a process. We’re just trying to change the mindset and the attitude of the kids.”
Smith said playing back in the 1990s was being part of a brotherhood.
“I need you, I’ve got you,” Smith explained. “We had each other. I was talking to a former player who has his own business. He has a Trojan head and a junkyard dog on his 18-wheeler That’s what it means — it’s a way of life. It’s a culture. It’s the way we talk and the way we walk the halls. It’s not just a label.”
Smith saw his dream of being a part of a state championship team stopped twice at Ferriday High.
In Smith’s senior year in 2000, the Trojans lost to Farmerville 14-0 in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
Ferriday had beaten Farmerville in overtime during the regular season.
Smith, who would be the Parish Player of the Year, collected 155 tackles, seven sacks, forced nine fumbles and had 28 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He also had three interceptions for a team which held opponents to 112 points or 8.6 a game.
But the loss to Farmerville is the main thing Smith remembers.
“I think my senior year we should have won a state championship,” Smith said. “We played Farmerville. They were a great team and we lost to them on two great plays they made. I speak to Demetric Carr every time I go to a convention. They went on to win a state championship the next year, but they basically had the same team when he was a junior. It was a battle. We just came up a little short. But we were right there in the thick of things.”
Smith went on to play college football at Louisiana-Lafayette before going on to coach at Carroll, Grant High, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Louisiana College before landing a job at Franklin Parish.
When Dwight Woods resigned, Smith earned his first head coaching job at his alma mater. Smith was Chad Harkins’ assistant coach at Ferriday in 2010.
The Trojans defeated Farmerville 32-22 in its final game of the season to win the district title.
But the Trojans, who finished 7-4, were upset by Pope John Paul II 17-14 after scoring the first two times it had the ball.
Smith now has another chance to win a state title at Ferriday.
“My first year when I came back to Ferriday we were in the same district as Farmerville,” Smith said. “We went up there and beat them for the district championship. That was a little revenge for me.”
Smith said his dream coaching job has always been Ferriday High.
“I love coaching, I love the game,” he said. “I just want to be a ball coach. I want to focus on changing lives and opening these guys’ eyes that they can get out of Ferriday and use this sport to do whatever they want to do. I want to make sure they are in the best situation for success. Coach (Cordell) Bailey and Coach (James) McFarland put their lives into it to make us better. I’m returning the favor.”
Ferriday earned the right to say JYD in Smith’s first year.
And the defense has been lights out for the most part.
Ferriday has outscored its opponents 684-134 this year. And that includes a 35-22 loss to Alexandria Senior High in the season-opener without the benefit of a scrimmage or jamboree.
Ferriday had tentatively scheduled a jamboree game with John Curtis, but the logistics fell through at the last minute.
I had a north Louisiana sports radio guy call me late in the game Friday night asking for an update.
After the update he asked me if this was the best Ferriday day ever.
I had to think for a second. Certainly that 1981 Ferriday team was one to remember.
That 1981 team was led by Walter Johnson, Nathaniel Williams, Keith Henderson, Danny Fletcher, Reggie Melancon, Gregory Moore, Cedric Morgan and others.
That Ferriday team was 12-0 going against a John Curtis team that was 13-0 and led by future SMU standout running back Reggie Dupard.
Ferriday actually jumped out to a 16-7 first quarter lead, but the Patriots came back to lead 28-24 at halftime.
The Patriots led 36-24 after three quarters and both teams scored six points in the final quarter as the scoreboard showed a 42-30 final in a game played before a jam-packed crowd, including LSU head football coach Jerry Stovall.
After the game, John Curtis school founder John Curtis Sr., whose son John Curtis Jr., was the head coach, told Baldwin, “You are the best we’ve played all year. We have played some quad-A teams and none of them matched your team.”
Curtis beat E.D. White 21-17 the following week for its third straight championship.
“J.T. and I became good friends,“ Baldwin said. “He told me after the game that it was the greatest high school game he had ever been involved with. It was a great game and very memorable. Both teams played their hearts out. Our kids gave all they had. I thought one call affected the outcome. When Bobby Ray Thompson’s touchdown was called back, it kind of knocked the wind out of us.”
And, of course, the 1984 team that lost to John Curtis in the Dome with the likes of James Jones, Tony Moore, Eddie Blakenship, Francis Duncan, Keith Whitley, Dyron Jones and others.
And it’s apples and oranges with the Ferriday Bulldogs teams of the 1950s. A couple of those teams could have competed with small college teams.
But as far as Ferriday Trojans teams? I did tell the guy on the line (they always call in the middle of big plays) that this team is certainly better than the last two that reached the semifinals, even led by Dare Rosenthal and Dantrieze Scott.
I told people this year after the third game of the season this team was more focused, more disciplined, did not take plays off and kept its focus, which they continued to do throughout the season.
And the play of the overlooked and dominating offensive line, with the talent and leadership of quarterback Kobe Dillon has been huge.
If the Trojans could finish up with a win and state title Friday, I would think they would earn the title. And then maybe we could talk John Curtis into a game.
But first things first. Many and a first state championship for the Ferriday Trojans.