By Kathi Bliss
Despite some early missteps and costly errors, the Lions were able to put together a big win on the road on Friday night over the Marble Falls Mustangs. The win, which was critical to keep the Lions in the playoff chase, came at the end of a brutal four-week losing streak, and likely gave the Lions the boost they needed to finish out the season on a high note.
“I think some of the Seniors have had Tivy circled on their schedules since last season,” Head Coach Brian Herman said. “Most of us believed it would come down to this game to determine our playoff contention.”
However, to make that decision possible this coming Friday, the Lions had to get past the Marble Falls Mustangs, who have been fighting all season but have yet to pick up a win.
Coming into their last home game of the season and celebrating Senior Night, the Mustangs (2-7, 0-6) came to the field strong, shutting down the Lions’ first offensive attempt and capitalizing on Lockhart’s mistakes to strike first, with a 26-yard field goal to open scoring in the first quarter.
The Lions answered on their next drive, as Greg Rivera slid around a herd of Mustang defenders on a 47-yard scramble to put the Lions deep inside Mustang territory. Stephon Houston followed up with a 7-yard run, and Austin Garcia found his way across the goal line, but the touchdown was called back on a chop block against the Lions, breaking up the momentum and forcing Herman to call on his kicker, Juan Ocampo, for a 27-yard field goal to tie the score at 3.
The Lion defense locked down on Marble Falls’ next drive, led by Tyresse Purefoy who helped the defensive line drive the Mustangs back, eventually forcing a punt at fourth-and-23.
The second quarter started rough for the Lions, as missed opportunities on the offensive line and a series of penalties kept the Lions out of the end zone early. Ocampo missed a shot at a second field goal keeping the score level at three.
However, the Lion defense came back strong, crushing the Mustangs’ efforts to catch any momentum in the first half. After breaking up a series of pass plays, the Lions had the Mustang line so rattled that they fumbled the snap on a field goal attempt, putting the Lions in the drivers’ seat on their own 27-yard line.
On the next snap, Rivera proved once again whyhe is a staple of the Lions’ offensive structure, breaking away for an 83-yard touchdown sprint, with just over a minute left on the clock. Ocampo split the uprights to give the Lions a 10-3 lead.
With time for one more attempt, the Mustangs set up a pass-heavy drive into the red. With four seconds on the clock, Clayton Hinckley picked off an interception at the 2-yard line, ending the drive, and closing the half on a high note.
“The boys that are still coming to practice every day understand and know what is required to extend our season,” Herman said. After the rough mid-season streak, a win over Marble Falls was a key ingredient to that formula.
After the half, the Lions bobbled for a moment, before punctuating that victory.
On the opening drive of the half, the Mustangs were able to recover a Lion fumble at their own 36-yard line and drive back for the tying touchdown.
During their next drive, the Lions faced mounting penalty trouble, losing yards on penalties almost as fast as Rivera, Houston and Garcia could stack them up. The Mustangs forced a punt and took over at their own 44, but the Lion defense once again stepped up to stop a Marble Falls drive.
“Our defense plays with intensity and the defensive line leads the way,” Herman said.
Taking back the ball as the minutes clicked off the third, the Lions were able to finally gain the momentum they needed, pressing a series of small gains into a big push and putting Houston over the goal line and the Lions on the top side of a 17-10 score.
The fourth quarter was, as the cheerleaders called, the “Lion Quarter,” as a team that has struggled for second-half traction most of the season jelled to stack up two more touchdowns in the final 12 minutes of play.
Purefoy and company kept up the pressure, forcing yet another punt.
This time, the Lions made short work of the Mustangs’ defense, as Rivera once again found a big hole and plowed through it for a 55-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes left in the game.
A fourth-and-1 fumble on the snap was recovered by Belar Sneed deep in Mustang territory, giving the Lions a chance to widen the scoring gap. A big push from the offensive line was exactly what Garcia needed to find his way into the end zone, opening the score to 31-10 with 2:09 on the clock.
As seconds ticked away, the Mustangs once again took to the air, putting together a long drive from their own 20 and into the end zone, but with only 15 seconds on the clock, the damage was done.
The Lions set up the victory formation and kneeled out to keep their playoff dream alive.
“The best part of our offense is that when the defense targets to stop one player, the other weapons have to step up and carry the load,” Herman said.
Stepping up and carrying the load will be exactly what is expected of the Lions on Friday, when they play their final home game of the season in a make-it or break-it showdown with the Kerrville Tivy Antlers (3-6, 3-3). Though they are struggling this season, the Antlers are standing essentially even with the Lions at the midpoint in the District – so close, in fact, that the playoff berth has come down to points once again, and the Lions must secure an 11-point victory over the Antlers to advance to the post-season.
Historically, the Lions have not fared well against the long-standing District powerhouse. However, the Lions’ growth over the last several years, coupled with a rocky season at Kerrville, could give the Lions just the edge they need for an historic Friday night win.
“Four things will be the key,” Herman said. “Amazing defense, outstanding offensive line play, winning in the turnover battle and winning in the kicking game. We didn’t expect points to play into the scenario, but we know two things – that we must win, and that we must win by 10 points or more.”
The top three playoff slots in District 26-5A have been claimed by Boerne-Champion (7-2, 5-1 with a loss to Alamo Heights), Alamo Heights (8-1, 5-1 with a loss to Dripping Springs), and Dripping Springs (8-1, 5-1 with a loss to Boerne-Champion). Assuming a Medina Valley loss Alamo Heights on Friday night, the Lions-Antlers standoff will determine the fourth place finish in the District.
In the final home game of the season, the Lions will celebrate their parents and their Seniors in special pre-game presentations. Kickoff is slated at 7:30 p.m.
(Additional information courtesy of Kyle Bishop)