By Kathi Bliss
From the first whistle to the final play, the Lions learned more about themselves on Friday night than they have all season. As they played an evenly-matched game against the Hays Rebels that stretched into double overtime, Lockhart’s boys of fall took a big step forward.
“We found out who we are and where we are as a team,” Coach Brian Herman said. “We learn more about ourselves every week and strive to make ourselves better for our next test.”
To be sure, the Lions stood their ground against longtime rivals the Hays Rebels, who the Lions have not bested on the gridiron in nearly 20 years. From trading touchdowns to a spectacular double-overtime finish, the Lions showed the Rebels that the days of thinking of the Lockhart Lions as an “easy win” are over.
Hays opened the game with an 80-yard scoring drive, but the Lions immediately answered back with an 80-yard drive of their own, ending with Curtis Hawkins forcing his way across the line on an 8-yard push. The kick, unfortunately, went wide, leaving the Lions at the short end of a 7-6 score for the remainder of the first quarter.
While the Lions continued to hold the Rebels out of the endzone, Lockhart’s offense found its stride, padding the score to 13-7 as CJ McKinney found his way to the endzone on 9-yard scramble and Jordon Johnson’s kick sailed through the uprights.
With time ticking off the clock and the Lions’ within striking distance of the goal, but still at fourth down, Herman made a decision that put the spotlight back on Johnson, who has been gaining attention throughout Central Texas this season with his long, and often buzzer-beating kicks.
This time, with a touchdown appearing out of reach, Herman called Johnson to the field looking for a field goal. Johnson delivered, sailing a 41-yard kick through the uprights and increasing the Lions’ lead to 16-7.
Though the teams traded blows for the rest of the half, they held steady and closed the first half of play at 16-7.
Upon returning from the locker room, the Rebels buckled down, pairing strong defensive plays with tricky maneuvers on offense, and getting close enough to the goalposts for a 42-yard field goal of their own, narrowing Lockhart’s lead to 16-10. After trading defensive blows, the Rebels scored again to move ahead, 17-16.
As the fourth quarter started, the Lions made another strong effort at the end zone, allowing Hawkins to power in for another touchdown. To pad the score, Herman called for a two-point conversion, which McKinney carried in to put the Lions back in the lead at 24-17.
The Rebels answered back with a touchdown of their own, tying the score at 24 and giving the Lions what they thought would be one last shot at the win.
With time running out, the Lions fought their way back into deep Rebel territory, setting up a nerve-wracking final-second kick from Johnson, hoping for the win.
A breeze caught the 30-plus yard kick, swinging it slightly to the left and outside the goalposts, triggering overtime play.
Both teams scored in their first overtime attempt, tying the score at 31 and giving Hays their second overtime shot.
On a pass play, the Rebels took the 38-31 lead.
A fiery Lion offense stepped up to the challenge, putting Hawkins in position to charge in for a 5-yard touchdown run, his third on the night.
Herman then made a gutsy decision, not to wait for a third overtime, but instead to attempt the two-point conversion and go for the win. Summoning the last of their strength, the Rebel defense managed to fend off the attack, locking down on the end zone and preserving the 37-38 win.
“This is a very tough district and each game will be won by the team that limits their mistakes and takes advantage of the other teams mistakes,” Herman said. “There are no easy games.”
Still, after going 5-0 at home last year, the Lions continue to depend on their home field advantage as the season wears on.
“The band, cheerleaders and the crowd continues to show support which helps give us a home field advantage,” he said. “I know the boys are very grateful of that.”
The Lions are hoping to take that feeling of home on the road this week as they travel to Boerne to take on the Champion Chargers.
The Chargers, at 5-1 (2-1) on the season, have only fallen to the District leaders, the Alamo Heights Mules. However, in a tight District with eight tough teams, anything could happen.
“The four games this week were decided by 21 points,” Herman said. “Like Hays, [the Chargers] are one of the more complete teams in the District, and the key is too play as mistake free as possible and be sharp in all areas of the game.”
The drama will play out at Boerne-Champion stadium, 201 Charger Blvd., in Boerne. Kickoff is slated at 7:30 p.m.