By Kathi Bliss and Rob Ortiz
A football season marked by rough play and rougher breaks came to a close for the Lions on Friday night as they faced off with the Kerrville Tivy Antlers for the fourth and final playoff spot for District 26-5A on Friday night. Despite putting up a strong defense against an Antler line that has been struggling through the season, the Lions were not able to capitalize on opportunities, and closed the season with a 41-16 loss, and a (3-7 [2-5]) final record, a letdown for fans who had hoped to see the Lions make another playoff bid this year.
“We knew the competition this year was going to be tough, and we embraced that and did the best we could this year,” Head Coach Brian Herman said on Tuesday of a season that pitted the Lions against three teams ranked within the Region’s top 30, one after the other. Though the series took its toll, the Lions remained committed to their team goal, and remained firmly in the playoff chase until Friday night.
The night started on a high note for the Lions as a solid defense took the field to open the games. With a combination of a forced fumble from Chris Chambers and a big sack from Logan Schnautz, the Antlers were forced to punt on their first drive.
A brutal response from the Antlers’ defense shut the Lions down after four downs of play, with a punt that left Tivy in Lion territory and set for the first score of the game.
That touchdown came, four plays later as a Kerrville back slid through the defensive line for an 11-yard touchdown run with 5:28 left in the first quarter.
Try as they might, the Lion offense could not get any traction against Kerrville’s powerful defense, and the Lions struggled to put together an effective counterattack. A turnover on downs at fourth-and-2 left the Antlers once again at first-and-10 in Lion territory, and allowed another Antler touchdown with just under two minutes left in the quarter.
Things looked to turn around for the Lions on the Antlers’ next offensive drive, as Micah Jackson cradled his third interception of the season, returning 45 yards to put the Lions in the driver’s seat at the Tivy 15. Combining the strengths of Stephon Houston and Austin Garcia to drive the ball to the 2-yard line.
Unfortunately, an injured Garcia fumbled as he tried to power into the end zone; the Antlers recovered the fumble, and Garcia’s injury ended his night.
Lockhart’s defense was able to hold the Antlers to mid-field, but the Lion offense still couldn’t make ground, despite shifts in strategy and field time.
“We were hit with tough competition and multiple injuries this season, and many other unexpected changes to our lineups, week-to-week,” Herman said. “Out of 20 years of coaching, this year was the hardest in terms of patching holes and juggling personnel week to week.”
As the minutes ticked away in the half, the Antlers continued to combine defensive pressure with offensive prowess, going up 20-0 with 2:55 left on the clock.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Lion offense stepped up their game, driving into the red to be left at fourth-and-1, with 15 seconds on the clock.
Herman called on kicker Juan Ocampo to put the Lions on the board, which he did with a 24-yard field goal.
The battle for the Lions continued in the third, with the Antlers standing strong against every play Herman’s offense could throw at them, and the brutalized defense wearing down under the pressure. As the Lions struggled to put together a drive to midfield, another Lion fumble allowed the Antlers to return 47 yards for a 27-3 lead.
Late in the third quarter, the Lions put together a successful drive, pushing from the 31-yard line and taking to the air, finally pushing Nathaniel Burnett across the goal line with 1:42 left in the quarter.
Tivy answered immediately to open the gap to 34-10 as the fourth quarter opened.
Once again, the Lions turned over on downs, prompting perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening – Herman brought in 1,000-yard rusher Stephon Houston at quarterback for the remainder of the game.
“That was our way of thanking him for all he has done,” Herman said. “He requested the opportunity regularly [but] I always told him we were more balanced and difficult to defend when he was at tailback and Logan (Brown) was at quarterback. So, as the moments ticked away, I pulled the trigger and let him have his fun.”
Have fun, he did.
In addition to crossing the 1,000-yard mark while acting as quarterback, Houston, who finished the season with 1,013 rushing yards, connected a 9-yard pass with fellow senior Vincent Nevels for a touchdown, a career first for the pair at those positions.
Despite the loss, Herman and his Lions continue to look forward, focusing on the positive aspects of the season, and how to improve on them.
“Knowing what we will have to face next season, everyone will have to commit fully and prepare to compete or prepare to observe,” Herman said. “We will foster a competitive environment and challenge everyone to overcome adversity as often as possible.”
Herman said coaches have already begun meetings to identify what was right and what was wrong this season, with the expectation and motto for the off-season already emerging.
“The coaches and kids will rededicate themselves starting now to do more,” he said.
Off-season training started on Monday, and the Lions will continue to move forward and grow as they look to an even more successful 2017 season.