For one generation of high school football fans (my generation), the 20-20 tie between Byrd and Springhill before a crowd of 20,000 spectators at State Fair Stadium in 1953 was the North Louisiana high school equivalent of the greatest game ever played. It had everything except a winner.
But the game played on Nov. 12, 1953, didn’t come close to being the most exciting day in the life of Springhill coach Billy Baucum.
That was June 6, 1944, when Baucum and thousands of other American soldiers charged onto Normandy Beach in the invasion of Europe.
“Football was still important to me,” Baucum recalled later, “but after the war, I realized it wasn’t a matter of life and death. That has a way of putting things in perspective.”
Baucum’s 1953 Springhill team was led by John David Crow, who later played for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Texas A&M and became the only Heisman Trophy winner in Bryant’s Hall of Fame coaching career.
Byrd’s defense, led by Richard Gay, another future Texas A&M star, held Crow to four yards per carry that night – which was 12.2 yards under his average for the season. He scored 177 points, and had 1,346 yards rushing in only 83 carries.
The Yellow Jackets led 20-6 in the fourth quarter, when Crow stopped running the football and started throwing it, setting up the tying touchdown in the final minute with a 34-yard pass to Jack Montgomery and a 15-yard pass to Virgil Jester after a roughing-the-kicker penalty against Byrd kept the drive alive. Springhill’s 120 yards passing (to Byrd’s zero) gave the Lumberjacks a one-yard advantage in total offense, 269-268.
Byrd went on to the Class 2A state finals before falling to Jesuit (New Orleans), 7-6. Quarterback Gene Newton and tackle John Kidd represented the Yellow Jackets on the Class 2A All-State team. Crow and end Jack Montgomery were All-Staters for Springhill.
That was the year that Bryant, then coaching at Texas A&M, said watching game films of Crow was like watching a grown man play against boys. (He apparently didn’t see the Byrd-Springhill film.)
Springhill was the defending state champion in Class A, which was then the second highest class. But the Lumberjacks did not qualify for the state playoffs in 1953, losing the district championship game to Webster Parish rival Minden on Thanksgiving Day.
That was four years after Byrd’s seventh (and last) state football championship, in 1949. The Yellow Jackets won six of those state titles in the first 12 years of the school’s existence, from 1926 to 1937. End Dickie Murray, tackle M.K. Woolbert and guard John Trigg were All-Staters on Byrd’s 1949 state champions, coached by Jack Rowan. They beat Holy Cross (New Orleans) 34-13 in the championship game at State Fair Stadium.
The Yellow Jackets’ 1949 championship season started with a 6-0 loss to Sulphur – a loss they avenged by the same score in the opening round of state playoffs. In the championship game with favored Holy Cross, Dan Barr swept left end for 18 yards on the first play. Then Willard Rachal broke over right tackle for 38 yards and the first touchdown. A 32-yard run by Rachal set up the second touchdown.
Byrd quarterbacks Edgar Galloway and Jerry Dykeman averaged only 57 yards a game passing. The Yellow Jackets, like other high school teams at that time, rarely threw the ball. They didn’t need to throw it. After a 1-10 season in 1947, the worst record in the school’s history at that time, the Yellow Jackets were state champions for the seventh time. They’re still waiting for No. 8.