BATON ROUGE – James Waguespack is the only head football coach in Louisiana prep history to lead two different schools to undefeated state championship seasons.
Waguespack’s 1979 St. James team went unbeaten, including a 14-8 triumph over Wossman to win a state title and his 1995 Cecilia squad defeated Karr 12-9 for another crown on his way to a 231-145 record in 32 years as a head coach.
That success led to Waguespack’s induction in the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel as part of the 2019 class of honorees.
Like a first love, you never forget that initial state title. The first title for the River Parish native came while coaching his alma mater.
The only state championship St. James ever won on its home field, the Wildcats, who went into the game ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, and Wossman were tied 8-8 after regulation in their 1979 classic.
The game marked the first time in Louisiana high school history that a championship game went to overtime. In past years, a game that ended in regulation – even with a state title on the line – was decided by the team with the most first downs in the game.
Luckily for the Wildcats, the new rule had just been implemented. Under the old rule, St. James would have lost because Wossman had more first downs.
Wossman won the toss and elected to take the ball first in overtime from the St. James 10-yard line
A bad snap on second down led to a loss, with an 11-yard pass from Wossman quarterback Ricky Foy Michael Grant down to the 4-yard line.
The St. James defense stopped Wossman on fourth down and turned the ball over to the Wildcats’ offense.
St. James running David Charles ran the ball down to the 1-yard line on first down. On second down, Charles, behind a block from center Harold Hymel, plunged into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 14-8 and the fourth state title in school history.
“They outplayed us but when we went into overtime, we were lucky we stopped them on fourth down. The first play when we had the ball we ran it down to the 1-yard line and scored on second down,” Waguespack recalled.
Needed only a field goal to win, did Waguespack think of kicking the ball after the first-down run?
“No, it was just second down,” said Waguespack.
Then came the celebration.
“I think the only time I felt better than that is when I played and we won a state championship when I was a senior,” Waguespack said.
The St. James defense that night didn’t allow a point. Wossman’s only points came when a pass by Wildcats quarterback Keith Falgoust was returned for a touchdown.
“We have a lot of stories about Coach Jimmy. One I can remember is when I threw the interception in the state championship game. The first thing he said was, ‘You throw an interception and you don’t know what they hell to do. You couldn’t tackle him.’ And of course, they scored a touchdown on it,” Falgoust recalled.
Falgoust was among a number of Waguespack’s former players who showed up to help honor their former coach on his big night.
“We felt on coming once we found out that he was being inducted into this Louisiana High School Athletic Hall of Fame. It’s an honor. The only other (from St. James) is Prof Harold Waguespack, I believe, to be honored into this,” said Falgoust, referring to the elder Waguespack, the man who laid the foundation at St. James as the Wildcats’ first football coach.
Also on hand was Keith Becnel, a linebacker on the 1979 state championship team.
“It’s an honor. It’s something I will always be proud of, being part of that state championship team. It taught me a lot in life about teamwork and working together and work hard,” said Becnel.
Another former Waguespack player in attendance on Tuesday was Irving “Boo” Schexnayder. A senior offensive lineman on Waguespack’s 1978 St. James team that reached the state semifinals, Schexnayder went on to become a renowned track coach who has coached Olympic athletes.
“Coach was a role model in a lot of ways. The fact he was very dedicated to his craft and the fact he took it very seriously – the fact that he made athletics a real positive thing for me was a big thing. That kind of inspired me to try and help other people in a same way,” said Schexnayder.
Like Falgoust, Becnel recalled an incident involving to Waguespack that spoke to his method of motivation.
“I remember one time, he left us all out our senior year in the front of the school. He was made at us for being lazy or whatever and he just walked away and said, ‘ya’ll got it. Ya’ll seniors got it and ya’ll finish practice because I’ve got enough of this.’ He showed he trusted us and wanted to see how we reacted,” said Becnel.
Along with coaching his alma mater to a state championship, Waguespack was a player on the Wildcats’ first state title team in 1959.
Playing at Oberlin, against a team led by Hoyle Granger, who would go on to play at Texas A&M and became the all-time leading rusher in American Football League history, the Wildcats won 19-6.
“They were ahead of us at halftime and we came back and scored two touchdowns in the second half and I had a pretty good game as a running back,” recalled Waguespack.
Waguespack’s biggest claim to fame as a player may have come a week earlier in the semifinals against Zachary.
St. James was clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the game and Zachary was driving for a potential game-winning score.
Waguespack, who played in the secondary on defense, was beat to the end zone by Zachary receiver James Pellegrin. The 5-foot-6 Waguespack jumped on the back of the 6-foot-6 Pellegrin.
Instead of a touchdown, the pass interference all only cost the Wildcats 15 yards. More importantly for St. James, the defense held, allowing SJH to win its first-ever state title.
“We were lucky. Coaches, when they coach defensive backs, they say when they beat you, do anything – pull him down, don’t let him get in the end zone. That’s what I did. We played a great game that night,” Waguespack remembered.
Following his coaching stint at St. James, Waguespack went on to be head coach at Cecilia and later Beau Chene.
At his second tenure as a head coach, Waguespack led Cecilia to unprecedented school success. He led Cecilia to the state championship game in 1992 and 1993 before capturing the state title in 1995.
That game him another legion of ex-players to help him celebrate his Hall of Fame induction.
“It’s a tremendous honor. I still can’t believe it. They treated us so nice. I can’t believe it happened to me, an old country boy,” said Waguespack.