By Kathi Bliss
What looked like a disappointing home opener turned into a gripping victory on Friday night as the Lions gutted out a 17-16 win over the Crockett Cougars in the final seconds of the game.
During a first half plagued by turnovers, the Lions seemed all but defeated, as the Cougars went up 16-0 in the first two quarters of play on Parent and Senior Night.
After what must have been 12 uncomfortable minutes in the locker room at halftime, the Lions came alive in the second, with a defense that locked down on the Cougars and kept them out of the end zone for the second half of play.
And then, the defining moment came in the fourth, when the Lions powered down the field on a nearly-70 yard drive that ended with a touchdown.
A big 28-yard pass from new quarterback Steiger Morris to Marco Medina was an instrumental moment in setting up momentum for the Lions’ drive and ultimate win.
“The pressure was there and being that this was the first time I played quarterback at the Varsity level I felt it,” Morris said. “But I have played with these guys for years and I couldn’t let them down. The coaches and players have worked hard to prepare for victory and I know we will win again.”
Before the score, though, senior Juan Lopez, the standout running back who has been instrumental in the Lions’ offense so far this season, was injured after taking a late hit on the 11-yard line after a 29-yard scamper to further the drive. Crockett took the penalty on the poor conduct, and the Lions regrouped, finishing the drive as junior Curtis Hawkins plowed his way through the defensive line on an 11-yard touchdown roll.
In a strategic move that shocked no one, Coach Brian Herman ordered a two-point conversion, which Hawkins drove in on a 4-yard haul.
On their next drive, the Lions started from their own 4-yard line and put up big rushes to pick up yardage as the clock wound down. The successful drive ended with a tense moment, as junior Mateo Orosco momentarily lost control of the ball in the end zone, but recovered the fumble for the score.
Herman called for another conversion, which ultimately failed, leaving the Lions on the short end of a 14-16 score.
Victory seemed a mile away, with just over two minutes left on the clock and the Cougars powering down the field.
With 1:47 left, a miracle happened. The tide turned on the Cougars, who had recovered fumble after fumble throughout the night.
This time, the Lions forced a Cougar fumble, which was recovered by Jordon Johnson at the Lions’ 25-yard line.
Emotion ran high in Lion Stadium as the clock wound down and the Lions pressed closer and closer to the end zone. With nine seconds left, the Lions were still too far out and Herman made a call that shocked fans as it created a situation similar to the one the Lions had faced the week before in Victoria, when the ultimate outcome lay on the shoulders of senior kicker J. Johnson.
“To know that the coaches believed in me to give me another shot to win the game was incredible,” Johnson said. “Everyone told me last week that when I missed everyone misses one time or another but I would get another chance someday. Going into that kick I knew that no matter what, I would have the support the team and coaches and that was an amazing feeling.”
Herman sent Johnson to the line and as his teammates hushed the rowdy fans, he geared up for the 37-yard kick attempt. Crockett’s coach called back-to-back time outs in an effort to break the Lions’ stride, but Johnson came through in the clutch, sending the ball sailing through the uprights and putting the Lions ahead 17-16 with a mere four seconds left in the game.
Standing ready across the field, the Lions prepared for the Cougars’ final drive, which was a running attempt that fell short as the buzzer sounded and the Lions ran the ball carrier out of bounds.
For the second week in a row, the Lions have corrected first-half errors and played strong, powerful football after halftime. It’s a habit that Herman is hoping his team can break.
“We have increased the urgency in practice and changed the format slightly to mimic starting fast and finishing strong,” he said. “Of course limiting mental errors and eliminating turnovers will aide in a stronger start as well and we have addressed that too.”
He is also focused on the Lions’ injury list, which seems to be growing as the season moves forward, with not only Lopez, but quarterback CJ McKinney and several other Lion seniors benched with injuries.
“I hate to speculate on anyone’s return date,” he said. “Let’s just say hope is not lost. Everyone has stepped up and done an outstanding job taking advantage of unexpected opportunities.”
The next opportunity will come on Friday night as the Lions travel to Bastrop to take on Cedar Creek.
The Eagles have had an interesting start on their year, opening with a 52-7 pounding from the Travis Rebels and rebounding with a 34-28 overtime victory against Lanier.
Bastrop Memorial Stadium is located at 755 Highway 21, Cedar Creek, Texas, 78612, near the intersection of FM535. Kickoff is scheduled at 7:30 p.m.