This is game No. 19 out of the top 40 games played by Concordia Parish teams.
Huntington’s only state championship in football came against a familiar team.
Riverside of Reserve handed the Hounds their only loss of the season, 21-6 on October 29, 1971 in Reserve.
The Hounds defeated defending Louisiana Independent Schools Association AA champion Valley Forge in the semifinals to set up the re-match, this time on its home field on Lake Concordia.
The semifinal win over Valley Forge was the first-ever loss for the Hammond school, which also opened in 1970.
“The Valley Forge coach was so mad we beat them that he was on Riverside’s sidelines that night,” said former Huntington back Russell Huber, who would go on to play fullback at Tulane.
Huber died in April of 2019.
Riverside brought 1,500 fans from Reserve, while Hound fans filled up the levee side of the stadium on the night of November 26, almost a month after the two teams’ first encounter.
Huntington played its game off Lake Concordia before a football field was built at Huntington in 1984.
“We really weren’t dreading them coming in,” said former Hound John Rife. “The big game was Valley Forge. The first time we played Riverside we had a dropped touchdown pass, penalties and just squandered a lot of chances. I had intercepted a pass and had Steve Jackson blocking for me and returned it to inside their 20-yard line, but we couldn’t capitalize on that. Even though the score was 21-6, we knew we could play against them. They were actually not as quick as they were the year before when they had a quarterback who ran a 9.7.”
Huntington, which was in its second year of existence, played its home games on the football field over the levee just a few yards from Lake Concordia before building a field at the school. But it was still a much more convenient place for Hound players than what they encountered at Riverside earlier that year..
“We had to dress in a house away from the field,” Rife said. “It was just over a mile. We started walking to the field, and then someone who was really fired up started running. So we were all trying to keep up. Coach (Bobby) Marks and Coach (Eddie) Hunter were bringing up the rear. It was strange.”
Marks remembered another first about that game at Riverside.
“While we were laying around waiting to get dressed two gasoline trucks came by and one went to one end of the field and and the other went to the other end,” Marks said. “They pulled out milk shake-sized cups and started filling them up. I talked to the coach after the game and he told me they sold beer at their games for 50 cents a cup and made about $10,000 just selling beer. That bought a lot of tuitions.”
One member of Riverside’s team was Terry Vitrano, who would be named MVP of the 1974 Sun Bowl in Mississippi State’s 26-24 win over North Carolina.
There was nothing to cheer about offensively in the first half as both teams went scoreless.
But on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Huntington’s Gerald Vaught picked off a pass by Riverside’s Johnnie Remondet and returned 38 yards for a touchdown.
Huntington’s first score came with some help from Hound trainer Dr. Bill Jones, who happened to overhear Rebel head coach Rod Firman cursing his players in the Rebel dressing room.
“We had a concrete wall between us but you could still hear him in the dressing room,” Marks said. “I had no idea what Bill was doing, but found out later he had his stethoscope up to the wall listening. When they came out, their coach was still cussing. Bill came up to me just before we went out said, ‘Coach, he was hollering and screaming so hard. And he said he was going to hit No. 84 (Jeff Kilbert) on the first play.”
Marks told Vaught, who also played safety, to watch for the pass on the first play. “Gerald said, ‘I don’t think they will pass, Coach,’” Marks said. “I said, ‘Gerald, the first play is a pass to 84 and I want to you pick it off and run for a touchdown.’
Gerald said, ‘Coach They are not going to do that.’ I said. ‘Gerald, I’m telling you to do this and if you don’t do it I am going to whip your tail.’”
Riverside passed the ball and Vault stepped right in front of it in full stride and never missed a beat.
“Gerald came up to me and said. ‘Coach, I will never doubt you again,’” Marks said. “He said, ‘Coach, I knew you were smart, but how did you know that?’ “I told him, ‘I just knew it Gerald.’”
Huber also remembered Jones overhearing the first play of the second half.
“When Bill Jones got excited, he would clap his hands,” Huber said. “He came up to Coach Marks and told him, ‘I know their first play, it’s going to be over the middle.’ Coach Marks asked, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘I’m sure.’ and clapped his hands.
Marks said years later there was a tribute to the 1971 state championship team at Ferriday Country Club. Marks broke his silence and told the story behind the interception.
“Gerald came up to me and said. ‘Coach, I knew you weren’t that smart,’” Marks said.
Riverside moved the ball down to the Hound 25-yard line in the final period, but the Hound defense held.
The final TD came with 1:30 remaining in the game after Robert Webber fell on a Riverside fumble at the Rebel 30-yard line.
Nine plays later, Huber carried the ball in from two yards out to put the game away for the Hounds and give Huntington its first state title.
A huge melee near the end of the title game against Riverside came after a hit by Huntington’s Terry Powell on the Riverside sideline.
“Both benches emptied,” Vaught said. “Law enforcement came out and had to help break it up. There wasn’t much time left. On the last play of the game, me and Jimmy were backed up about 30 yards around the 50-yard line. I looked over at Jimmy and said, ‘Hey Darden, I bet I beat you to the dressing room.’ Jimmy said, ‘I bet you don’t.’ I just knew all heck was about to bust loose.”
Vaught, who at the age of eight was among the top finalists in the national Punt,Pass & Kick competition held in St. Louis, also punted for the Hounds.
“I really never knew what kind of punter I was, it was just something I did,” he said.
“I don’t even know why they picked me to punt. I didn’t know what a spiral was or how to kick. But Bill Jones would come up to me and tell me in warm-ups that it was time to punt. Bill was making a big deal about it and I had no idea why. But later everybody would stop and watch me punt and I figured if I practiced it a lot and worked on it and could maybe get even better.”
Vaught would sign a football scholarship with Mississippi State as a wide receiver and punter.
Darden, Huber and Vaught were also members of Huntington’s 440-yard and 880-relay team in track.
They also were members of the Hound basketball team, which upset Southland 69-66 in 1970 in the first round of the state tournament before losing to eventual state champion Valley Forge in the semifinals at Hammond.
Huntington, which finished second in basketball to Briarfield, lost to Valley Forge 83-62 in the semifinals before beating Grand Cane 72-65 in the consolation game to finish third at State. The Hound basketball team was 24-8 in its first year.
“That was my junior year,” Huber said. “ We were just a bunch of football players playing basketball. Jamie Spears and Brittany Spears’ dad, was on the Valley Forge team. That guy killed us. He scored 30 points a game.”
Spears was also a quarterback on the Valley Forge football team.
The Hounds lost to Central of Baker in the semifinals in 1972.
Vaught, Huber and Frank Wilson came over to Huntington from Natchez-Adams High School.
“Our freshman team at Natchez was really good,” Vaught said. “We beat Hattiesburg, Yazoo City, Laurel and all the teams in the Big Eight that the high school team played.”
Vaught’s sophomore class at Natchez-Adams High totaled 442 students.
“And we had some great players in that class,’” Vaught said.
But in the spring of 1970, the Rebels were practicing outside one day when they were told to go back into the dressing room.
“We were told the School Board had a big blow-up,” Vaught said. “They told us to get dressed and go home. At that time, integration was going on.”
“Russell told me that Coach Marks wanted to talk to me,” Vaught said. “We went over to his house and then by the school. They had a new school, new football stadium and new jerseys. Coach Marks asked me if I would be interested and I told him I was.”
Vaught said it was tough leaving Natchez-Adams High.
“My dad (George) took me down into the pit (Martin Stadium) to watch games when I was little and I would sit in the stands dreaming of playing on that field,” Vaught said. “I ended up participating in five plays on the field as a sophomore.”
Huber said his father told him he was not going back to Natchez High. Huber actually attended grade school in Ferriday, and his brother, J.D. Martin, played for Marks at Ferriday High.
“I had not even heard of Huntington,” Huber said. “We had actually played against Ferriday Junior High when I was at Morgantown. Joey Porter was our quarterback. They were real tough, but we were able to score two touchdowns on them.”
Huber said he called Gerald and told him he was not going back to Natchez-Adams High.
“I told him Coach Marks wanted to talk to him,” Huber said. “After they talked to him they were ready. Gerald’s dad wired Huntington’s gym for free when it was built.”
Huber said he, Vaught and Wilson would take turns driving to Huntington.
“That team at Natchez was going to be something,” Huber said. “I think we would have been unbeatable. I remember Ernie Grantier saying, ‘Man, I can’t believe I finally have a team like this and they are going their separate ways. I didn’t want to go, but I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t believe I would have gotten the scholarship offer to Tulane if not for Coach Marks. I might have gotten one, but it would not have been as good.”
Huber actually shook hands with Mississippi State coach Charley Shira and was recruited by former Ole Miss All-American Barney Poole to come to Southern Mississippi.
“Ole Miss also wanted me,” Huber said. “My dad hated Ole Miss and didn’t like State. I was concerned about going to State because there were rumors their coach was getting fired, which he eventually was. Coach Poole was actually recruiting six guys from Huntington to come to Southern Miss. LSU came looking, but no one in Natchez liked LSU at the time, so they didn’t come back. Bennie Ellender came down and talked with us and I signed with Tulane. I blew my knee out my freshman year and sat out two years. I played two years and had a lot of fun there.”
Huber said he felt the 1970 Huntington team was better than the 1971 team.
“There was more talent on the 1970 team, but we just put it all together in ‘71,” he said.
“The state championship was certainly a highlight,” said Webber, who was all-state as a junior and senior.
“We had a great group of guys and two wonderful coaches in Coach Marks and Coach Hunter. We had some of the best players in the area. I think we could have competed anywhere. It was a lot of fun and very special.”
Huber remembers the night of the championship.
“Back then everybody had a date,” Huber said. “But we all went out by ourselves that night and celebrated. We went to hunting camp and told our dates we would see them later.”