Thirty-five years ago, Ferriday High's football team made history, becoming the first and only Concordia Parish team to compete in the Louisiana Superdome for a state championship.
Despite returning several starters from a team that went 7-4 in 1983 -- tying Vidalia and Caldwell for district titles -- the Trojans were not getting a lot of love. Losing to Notre Dame of Crowley in the first round of the 1983 playoffs may have had something to do that.
"I think that '83 team had more athletes," said Ferriday offensive/defensive lineman Anthony Moore. "Everybody contributed on that 1984 team. Everybody had a role. And if someone went down, somebody else stepped up. There was a lot of teamwork on that team. And we had great leadership."
"After Walter (Johnson) and Nate (Williams) and that bunch graduated we never got any respect," said Ferriday running back/linebacker Keith Whitley. "That did motivate us. We were thinking, 'When are you people going to get it?' We can play some ball here. We were small, but we were fast and hungry. I had some guys I ran into later that we played against tell me we were like a bunch of bumblebees with four or five guys hitting you on every play."
Francis Duncan said the lack of recognition was a motivation.
"We always felt we were pretty good, especially having played together so long," Duncan said.
Ferriday quarterbacks/receivers coach Robert Cade arrived in Ferriday in 1984 after seven years at Waterproof and one year at Delta High.
"The first time I walked on the field for practice I made the statement that I was glad to be here to be among winners and was looking for a great season," said Cade, who is pastor along with wife Betty at Ambassadors Worship Center in Natchez and Ferriday. "Most people just looked at me. But I saw that this was a hungry group that was now getting its chance. And they carried on the Junkyard Dog legacy."
Most former Trojans agree Eddie Blankenship was the bell cow.
Blakenship died in October of 2015 at the age of 48.
"Eddie went to basic training in the summer of 1984," Moore said. "He came in before the season a lean, mean fighting machine, yelling out cadences and pushing everybody around. That kind of leadership gave us an edge."
"I didn't like practicing or lifting weights," Duncan admitted. "But Eddie came back and had us all working hard. I knew it had to be done."
Quarterback/defensive back James Jones, who would attend Louisiana Tech along with Moore after finishing up at Ferriday, also credits Blankenship with being a big part of getting the Trojans to the Dome.
"Three of the four years I was at Ferriday we lost to the eventual state champion (John Curtis in 1981 and 1984 and Winnfield in 1982)," Jones said. "We went 7-4 my junior year (losing to Notre Dame in bi-regional) so no one was really expecting much out of us. The previous three years we were more talented and bigger in size. One thing that brought us together was friendship and the bond we had. Eddie came in and implemented so much accountability and Tony supported him whole-heartedly."
Whitley, who teaches in Houston, Texas, called Blankenship the team "yard dog."
"Right now my brother lives in his old house and it brings chills to me when I go over there," Whitley said. "Eddie was in the military between his junior and senior years. When he came back he was not as big, but his mentality was so different. He would have us out practicing when we weren't scheduled to practice."
Former Ferriday High defensive coach Arijo Green admitted his expectations were not real high prior to the 1984 season. He told head coach Larry Dantzler that he expected the team to go 5-5.
"Coach Danztler and I were coming back from an association meeting in Baton Rouge," Green said. "When we got to Dolorosa, Coach Dantzler asked me what he thought our chances were. I told him with what was coming back in district and how inexperienced we were that I expected us to go 5-5. But what I didn't know was the heart of the boys. Other teams were just as talented, but our guys had a lot of heart."
Moore said it took a year of adjusting to Dantzler after Baldwin left following the 1982 season.
Baldwin led Ferriday to the semifinals in 1981 where the Trojans lost a high-scoring contest to John Curtis in Ferriday.
"Coach Baldwin had a lot of structure and discipline," Moore said. "They both had two different styles. But it all lined up in 1984."
The lack of respect fueled the fire throughout the 1984 season.
The week of October 11, Ferriday received three votes in the Class AA poll, despite a 5-0 record.
That was two less than 6-0 Vidalia received.
The top 10 teams were John Curtis, Notre Dame, E.D. White, Farmerville, DeQuincy, Redeemer, Welsh, Springhill and Winnfield.
The Trojans received three votes the week after beating unbeaten Vidalia to improve to 6-0.
The Trojans finally jumped into the top 10 at No. 9 the first week of November.
Dantzler was cautiously optimistic before the season-opener at Bastrop, returning the likes of Jones, running backs Dyron Johnson and Whitley, linemen Duncan, Neal Harris, Moore, Blankenship, James Chest, Ronnie Reese, Daniel Atkins, receivers Bobby Taylor and Earl Banks and defensive backs Calvin Jones and Don Sheppard.
"Our boys have the hustle, physical condition and desire we need going into a new season," Dantzler said before the season-opener. "We will have some inexperience in our line on both offense and defense, but we expect to do well on our forward walls."
Vidalia beat Ferriday 13-6 in jamboree
"That really motivated us," said former Ferriday cornerback Don Sheppard. "We practiced more after that and ran our gasses a little harder."
"I feel our boys played well, but we made some mistakes at crucial times," Dantzler said after the game. "The jamboree was good for us and Vidalia also. It showed us some things we are going to have to work on."
Moore said that loss helped the Trojans realize what they could be.
"We realized even with that loss that we could put something special together," he said. "And Blankenship had us staying late after practice to keep working hard. We just grew closer as a team."
Dantzler was in his second year at Ferriday, taking over for Jerry Baldwin, who took Ferriday to the Class 2A semifinals in 1981 before losing to John Curtis.
Dantzler coached at Ferriday from 1983-86. He left Ferriday after the 1986 school year to accept a superintendent job in north Mississippi.
Tragically, Dantzler died in 1999 at the age of 47. He was attending a nurses convention with his wife in Denver. Co., when he suffered a heart attack.
"Coach Dantzler was a sort of soft-spoken person," Moore said of the former Ole Miss linebacker. "You would never hear him raise his voice. He was a real likeable guy. He didn’t let a lot of things bother him."
Moore, who begins his 30th year in education as Director of Child Welfare and Attendance in Ouachita Parish, said Dantzler loved being in the middle of everything.
"He loved the hands-on approach," Moore said. "It was almost as if he wanted to be a position coach. He really wanted to get in there and play a big role coordinating everything."
Ferriday defeated Bastrop 38-14 on the road in its season-opener.
Whitley rushed for 213 yards, while Ferriday's junkyard dog defense held Bastrop to 235 yards rushing and 22 passing.
The Trojan defense showed its might in the first home game of the season, blanking Clinton 14-0, holding the Eagles to five rushing yards and 124 passing.
Johnson caught two TD passes.
"I didn't think we played that well against Bastrop. which was down that year," Jones said. "We played much better against a good Clinton team. I think we started jelling then. We had a really good supporting cast."
Ferriday manhandled McCall of Tallulah 38-12 to improve to 3-0. It was the first loss of the year for McCall, which was coming off an easy win over Waterproof.
The Dragons finished with 107 rushing yards and 17 passing.
Duncan collected 14 individual tackles and eight assists in the win.
Ferriday had an open date the following week, but just down the road from Melz Field, Vidalia posted an impressive 19-6 win over South Natchez, holding the Colonels to 149 total yards, picking off three South Natchez passes.
The week off seemed to do the Trojans well as they routed winless Carroll of Monroe 31-6. The Ferriday defense held the Bulldogs to 65 rushing yards and 66 passing.
Ferriday received two votes in the LSWA poll, while Vidalia received four.
Ferriday tuned up for the big Concordia Parish battle looming on the horizon with an easy 41-0 win over Sicily Island, holding the Tigers to 60 yards on the ground and minus-11 in the air.
Meanwhile, Vidaila stayed unbeaten in its district opener by shutting out Winnsboro 27-0, setting up one of the biggest games in Concordia Parish in years.
And the game lived up to its billing at Viking Stadium.
A standing room only crowd of approximately 3,000 witnessed the battle between two of the best teams in Class 2A.
Vidalia was led by strong-armed quarterback Raleston Brown and the elusive Eddie Ray Jackson in the backfield.
Vidalia's defense was led by Joel Boles, Alan Ensminger and Richard Criswell.
Vidalia was averaging 24 points a game, while allowing 6.4.
Three penalties backed Ferriday up to its own 4-yard line early in the contest. Jones was hit scrambling and fumbled, with the VIkings recovering.
Brown carried the ball in for the first score of the game on the first play from scrimmage after the fumble and kicked the extra point to give the Vikings a 7-0 lead.
Whitley and Dyron Jones chewed up yardage on Ferriday's next possession, with Whitley scoring on a 22-yard run and Jones ran in the conversion for an 8-7 Trojan lead.
Ferriday went ahead 14-7 with seconds remaining in the opening period as Jones threw a long pass to Ronnie Taylor. The ball deflected off of Taylor's hands into the hands of teammate Earl Banks further down the field, who went the final 18 yards for the score.
The game turned defensive, with neither team scoring in the second or third period.
The Vikings began the final quarter on the Ferriday 29 after a fumble recovery at the Trojan 44 late in the third period.
Vidalia moved to the Ferriday 13, but Brown was sacked for 25 yards back to the Ferriday 38.
Ferriday blocked the punt, but the VIking defense then stepped up, stopping the Trojans at their own 25 after penalties and sacks.
Vidalia moved to the Ferriday 40, thanks in part to a 15-yard Trojan penalty. Jackson then broke loose on a 40-yard run with 7:45 remaining in the contest. The run for two failed, leaving VIdalia trailing 14-13.
Jones was sacked back to his 6-yard line on Ferriday's next possession.
Vidalia took over on the Trojan 42-yard line.
Four runs by Joseph Ray Hooker moved the ball to the Ferriday eight. Jackson was held to no gain, Brown was tackled for a two-yard loss and Brown's pass to Tony Hawkins was incomplete.
Brown then split the uprights on a 27-yard field goal, giving the VIkings a 16-14 lead with 2:51 remaining.
"We knew Vidalia had a tough team and we would have to come out focused," Jones said. "After that field goal I was thinking, 'What are we going to do now.' But I knew we could come back."
Ferriday began its dramatic drive on its own 17.
Whitley ran for 38 yards on first down, was stopped for no gain on the second play, and then broke loose on a 43-yard run to the Viking 2-yard line.
Johnson ran it in from there and Ronnie Reese added the kick for a 21-16 Trojan lead with 1:45 remaining.
"I think they thought we were going to pass the ball and we had a sweep right and sweep left with Keith that took it close to the goal line," Jones said. "We were looking defeat straight in the face. I told Dyron whatever you do, don't drop the ball.""
Whitley said his two long runs were a "zoom motion toss sweep right," and "zoom motion toss sweep left."
"I told Dyron whatever you do, don't drop the ball," Jones said. "Ronnie Taylor played slot and would throw a crackback block on the linebacker and Tony and Eddie would pull with Dyron in front of me," Whitley said. "It parted like the Red Sea. I had no more juice after the second run and I went to the sidelines and Dyron took it in from there."
Bobby Taylor intercepted a pass on Vidalia's next possession and the Trojans took control at their 32.
Four plays later, Reese punted to the Vidalia 48 and time ran out.
"That was a wild game," Green said. "The only other game with that type of atmosphere was the 1981 game against John Curtis."
"That was really something else," Moore said. "I've coached in a couple of big games, but nothing like that. It was a real barnburner."
Ferriday suffered no hangover from the emotional win, disposing of Winnsboro 42-6 the following week. The Wildcats managed only six yards on the ground and 26 through the air.
Daniel Atkins had two pass interceptions and recovered a fumble for Ferriday.
Ferriday clinched the district title the following week with a 36-3 shellacking of Block.
The Bears managed 32 yards on the ground and passed for 103.
Whitley had 11 solo tackles and an interception.
Whitley's father, Lawrence Martin Jr., who passed away last month at the age of 69, helped the Trojans in the weight room.
"When I was eight years old my dad had me flipping tractor tires," Whitley said. "He worked us hard in the weight room. He told us this would take us to the fourth quarter when the other team stops working and we're still working. We took their aggressiveness away from them. My dad taught me that if you work hard and do what you have to do you could come out on top on and off the field. We built up a lot of confidence in the weight room."
Whitley said it was tough following Nathaniel Williams, who rushed for 2115 in 1982.
"I was still playing fullback, but Ced Morgan got hurt and I was moved to tailback," Whitley said. "I was licking my chops. Once I got that first contact I knew I could do this. I learned a lot from Nate, and blocking for him helped me learn where the holes were."
Ferriday ended the 1984 regular season with a dominating 58-0 win over Caldwell.
Banks caught four passes for 112 yards and three TDs.
The Trojans, who allowed 6.33 points per game during the regular season while averaging 36.5, finished the season ranked No. 8. Ferriday held its opponents to less than 140 total yards six times during the regular season.
Ferriday cruised to a 38-6 win over Lake Providence in its first-round playoff game, holding the Panthers to 58 rushing yards and seven through the air.
Meanwhile, Vidalia beat DeQuincy 21-14.
The Trojans had a tougher battle in the second round, defeating Welsh 20-7.
"Welsh reminded me of Vidalia with how disciplined they were," Dantzler said after the game.
Ferriday held Welsh to 128 rushing yards and 18 passing.
Welsh fumbled the ball six times, with Ferriday coming up with five of them.
Meanwhile, Vidalia saw its season come to an end with a 30-0 loss to Notre Dame of Crowley.
Moore, who was named first team All-District on offense and defense, was named All-State as a defensive tackle. Jones and Whitley were named first team All-State on offense.
Whitley finished the season with 1.048 rushing yards, catching eight passes for 141 yards.
Jones, who is retired from the military and runs his own trucking company in Little Rock, finished the season completing 56-of-115 passes for 1,052 yards, while rushing for 581 more.
Cade worked with former Trojan coach and Alcorn State quarterback James McFarland when he was at Waterproof.
"I saw that the passing game was the part missing when I got to Ferriday," Cade said. "Coach (Jerry) Baldwin liked to run the ball."
Jones took a year away from work to serve as a volunteer coach for Cleothis Cummings in 2014.
Ferriday's final home game of the season set up a Class 2A semifinal match with Farmerville, which eliminated Rayville 13-0 the previous week.
The Trojans sent the home fans happy with a convincing 32-7 win over the Farmers.
The Trojan defense held Famerville to 32 rushing yards and 154 passing yards.
Banks had a 62-yard TD reception from Jones as the Trojans amassed 294 yards on the ground and 129 through the air.
Bobby Taylor and Calvin Jones had interceptions for the Trojans.
James Chest tackled Farmerville quarterback Theodis Gatson in his own end zone for a safety.
Ferriday went on the road to punch its ticket for the Superdome, defeating Bunkie 27-6, holding the previousy unbeaten Panthers to 180 rushing yards and 64 passing.
Ferriday High sent 12 busloads of fans to Bunkie for the semifinal contest.
It was the fourth straight win over a previously undefeated team.
Bunkie scored first on a David Christmas run, but Ferriday answered with James Jones scoring on an 11-yard run with 1:21 remaining in the first half. Whitley ran in the conversion.
Blankenship recovered a Christmas fumble at the Panther 14. Three plays later, Johnson scored from three yards out to give Ferriday a 14-6 halftime advantage.
Tony Moore recovered a Bunkie fumble at the Trojan 11, while led to a 75-yard TD run by Whitley to put the game away.
But Ferriday's win came at a cost as Chest injured his knee and underwent surgery.
"They say one person cannot make a difference, but I truly believe if we had not lost James we would have been state champions," Green said. "But we did make it there and everybody really stepped up."
Moore, who finished the season with 43 solo tackles, 61 tackles, six sacks and two fumble recoveries as the District 4-2A Most Valuable Player, was also hampered by ankle sprains on both feet and a bruised calf he had suffered against Welsh
"I was not a factor against John Curtis," he said. "That was very frustrating."
John Curtis defeated Notre Dame 13-6 to set up the state title game.
Despite being from New Orleans, Curtis fans were outnumbered by Ferriday fans as the crowd was announced at 3,500.
John Curtis got on the board first as Bruce Soileau scored on a 27-yard run.
Francis Duncan forced a John Curtis fumble the Trojan 17-yard line, recovering the fumble to set up Ferriday's only scoring drive.
Jones hit Dyron Johnson on a 42-yard scoring play and Ronnie Reese added the PAT kick to tie the game at 7-7with 11:52 remaining in the second quarter.
A fumble recovery by Taylor and a John Curtis interception keyed the remainder of the first half, which saw both teams enter the dressing room knotted at 7-7.
Rick Spooner put Curtis up for good with a short run in the third quarter.
Curtis added another TD in the fourth period and Mike Murla tackled Jones in his own end zone with less than two minutes remaining for the final score.
Curtis finished with 301 rushing yards and 11 passing.
Ferriday had 50 yards rushing and 116 passing.
Green said the experience of playing in the Superdome was awesome.
"I had been in the Superdome when it first opened in 1975. But it a a whole different atmosphere," Green said, "They got to us in the fourth quarrier. They had 100 kids to our 33. They just wore us down."
"It was quite an eye-opener to be on the field where we watched the New Orleans Saints play," Jones said. "It was a fun atmosphere leading up to that game with the excitement in the community."
"We were very prepared for this game," Whitley said. "But we had never played on turf before. I had turf burns. Our cleats would get stuck in the turf, so we all switched to tennis shoes in the second half. We rolled with them in the first half, but they came out with an entirely new offensive line to start the second half and they eventually wore us down."
Duncan, who is now retired, said the team did not know what to expect playing on turf.
"It was our first time to touch it," he said.
Duncan, who finished with 60 tackles on the season, was named Most Valuable Player of the championship game, picking up a fumble and collecting several tackles.
"The turf tackled me or I would have scored," Duncan said. "We were down seven points at the time. But I was very honored be named defensive MVP. I was fortunate to have a good game. I do believe if James Chest would have been able to play it would have been different because we would have had a shut-down defense."
Cade, who would lead Ferriday High to two back-to-back state championships in 1988-89, said he learned a valuable lesson at the state championship game.
"It was a wonderful experience," Cade said. "But one thing I always kept in the back of my head. During the presentation after the game we walked up and got our runner-up trophy and took pictures. John Curtis came out and got their trophy and took pictures. Their trophy was a whole lot bigger than our trophy. I realized then it was just not good enough to make it to the finals, you have to win it. When we played for state championships in basketball that was burning in my mind."
John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis was so impressed with Jones that after the championship game he said he wished Jones lived closer to River Ridge.
Jones signed as a defensive back at Louisiana Tech, where he lettered four years and led the Bulldogs in pass break-ups in 1988 with 12, which still rates ninth among Tech players.
Jones played a year with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League and also arena football with the New Orleans Night.
"We actually worked out where John Curtis practiced," Jones said. "I was able to hear and share a lot of stories with some of the coaches. Tommy Moffitt, the strength coach at LSU now, was on that coaching staff. It was interesting to see how they operated. That team we played against had players go to Michigan, Notre Dame and other places."
Jones joined the U.S. Army after football and served 20 years as a recruiter and counselor.
"I visited every state in the United States," Jones said. "I got to see a lot of high schools and they all play differently. Probably the No. 1 state in football is Texas."
Jones said he had the desire to coach throughout his military career.
"I put some testers out there to see if I really wanted to do it," he said. "I volunteer two years for North Little Rock High School in Arkansas."
After finishing up his military career in Colorado, Jones joined Block's staff last year and coached under Bennie Vault.
"Out of all the places I played football, my favorite time was at Ferriday, especially my senior year," Jones said. "We were a true band of brothers. That was the closest I've ever been to a group of men. I still talk a lot with Anthony Moore. I made some lifelong friends and will never forget those days."
The Trojan football team stayed in New Orleans overnight after the loss to John Curtis and watched the Saints play the Cincinnati Bengals in the Superdome on Sunday.
"I am real proud of the way they represented Ferriday," Dantzler said of his team. They were outstanding both on and off the field."
"Ferriday fans loved theses boys and that team," green said. "The kids got a kick out of seeing that stadium full every game."
"A lot of the guys on that team have done well for themselves," Jones said. "And I think being on that football team helped in a whole lot of ways. I wish and hope that another Ferriday team an experience playing for a state championship," Jones said. "That was a dream season."