I believe! (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Beard)
To say it has been a Cinderella season for Live Oak High football would be an understatement. Forty years ago, as a youth, I remember standing on the sideline of a makeshift football field in a drizzling rain as Live Oak played its first football game. Last Friday night I traveled to Monroe to watch Live Oak play a 5-A playoff game and upset the No. 8 team in the state. There has been a lot of football played around Live Oak since that first game in 1975. Little did any of us standing in the rain that day know how far Live Oak football one day would go.
To be honest, there were a lot of tough times and lean years around Live Oak. We started out as a small country basketball school that decided to add football. It takes time to build a team and tradition. I played football for 4 years in High School and finished my senior year with a team that had 20 players total that finished 2-8. One of the problems over the years has been the unbelievable rapid growth at Live Oak. When I graduated in 1980, there were probably less than 250 students in grades 9-12. Today, there are over 1,200. It seems that every time Live Oak moved up to a new classification, it took time to be competitive. Then when we did, we got moved up again, and the process started all over again. At one time, Live Oak held the longest active losing streak in the State of Louisiana at 25 straight games. But, those days are apparently behind us.
Enter Coach Brett Beard. Coach Beard was named Head Coach at Live Oak in 2015. He came to Live Oak after two successful years at Woodlawn High in Baton Rouge. Who knows what makes the right coach the right fit for the right team at any given time. But, whatever it is, Coach Beard seems to have it. In one season he has taken the Eagles into the “Golden Era” of Live Oak football. The team believes. The student body believes. The community believes. I believe.
The student body at Live Oak has a cheer that comes from the student section at each game. It goes like this, repeated several times: “I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN..I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN!…” Apparently, under the direction of Coach Beard, Live Oak’s football team also believes they can win.
The Eagles finished the regular season with a record of 6-4 (actually they really finished 7-3, as everyone with half a brain and two eyes knows, but that is another story). Along the way, they have been competitive, motivated and fun to watch. This season also saw a few firsts for Live Oak. In week 6, they beat upset Denham Springs, for the first ever win over the neighboring Yellow Jackets. I guess the days of them referring to us a “Live Joke” are over for good. Then, in week 10, the Eagles pulled another upset by beating Central, the perennial powerhouse right across the Amite River. Another first. Then, on Friday, the Eagles went on the road for the opening round of the playoffs and picked up their first ever post-season win by beating Ouchita Parish High 33-28. Or, as one of my Facebook friends put, “Live Oak Shocks the World, Part 3!”
The game against OPHS was a barn burner and one of the best games I have ever seen at any level. The Eagle fans traveled well and were there to cheer on the team. The game started with Live Oak receiving the opening kick off. The return man fumbled the ball and OPHS recovered it around the Live Oak 30 yard line. Not exactly the way an underdog wants to start out on the road. However, from the first play from scrimmage, it was apparent that the Eagles came to play. The Eagle defense held, without giving up a score. And from that point on, Live Oak brought the wood all night long. The Eagles pounded it out on offense, wearing down OP’s defense and keeping its high powered offense on the sideline. As the Monroe paper said on Saturday, Live Oak used its starting QB Dylan Wang like “a human battering ram.” The Eagle defense was stout and stingy all night long. By the beginning of the second half, the OPHS coaching staff realized they were NOT going to run the ball on Live Oak. Unlike some coaches at LSU, they knew that if you can’t run, you have to pass. OPHS’s passing game opened things up in the second half and lead to some big scores.
Late in the second half, Wang was shaken up on a pass play and had to come out of the game. Enter Ryan Morris. Morris was Live Oak’s starting QB for most of the season, until he suffered a concussion in a very scary episode a couple of weeks before. Morris came in and was able to open up the passing game. The leadership and change of strategy was just what the Eagles needed at that point. The lead changed hands in the 4th quarter 4 times. The Eagles scored midway through the 4th, to trail 28-27. The Eagles came back with a successful onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and drove 45 yards for the go ahead score to lead 33-28, with three minutes left to play. But the game was far from over.
The Eagle defense was still laying the leather to ’em, but along the way OPHS managed to convert on a 4th and 13 and eventually drove down to a 1st and goal at the 2 yard line, with :30 left. After a game which saw a total of 51 points scored, it was going to come down to whether or not the Live Oak defense could hold on 4 downs to seal the win. And they did. On first down, a dive on the middle was stopped for a one yard loss. OPHS clocked it on 2nd down to stop the clock. On 3rd down, they tried the middle of the line again, only to be stopped for no gain. At that point, OPHS called time out with :07 left in the game. The season was going to come down to one play. On 4th down, OPHS put in the “elephant package” and tried one more dive up the middle. Not only did the Eagles hold, they stopped the play 3 yards in the backfield and caused a fumble. Time expired. EAGLES WIN!
So now, Live Oak, for the first time ever, gets host a home playoff game. Friday night, the Eagles will line up against Number 9 ranked John Ehret right here in Watson! People are paying attention now. Even The Advocate published a nice story about the new feel around Live Oak.
Who knows what will happen Friday night. Win or lose, it has been a great season at Live Oak High. But my take is this:
I BELIEVE THAT WE CAN WIN!