By Kathi Bliss and Rob Ortiz
Confidence was high. Spirits were higher.
When the Lions took the field on Friday night in front of a near-capacity Homecoming crowd for their first outing against the Castroville Medina Valle Panthers, many thought that nothing could go wrong. A win meant that the Lions would continue in their chase for the coveted fourth-place playoff spot. A loss put the outcome in someone else’s hands.
With the defense looking strong and the offense putting together smart drives, it seemed like a sure thing. For almost 48 minutes of play, the Lions stayed in the driver’s seat. In the last moments of the game, the wheels came off, leaving Lockhart on the cold side of a 20-17 final score.
The scene looked strange from the word “go,” when Head Coach Brian Herman went against his habit, and opted to receive in the first half. After a strong 21-yard return by Joseph Flores, the Lions started their first offensive drive at their own 26. Running backs Stephon Houston, Austin Garcia and Greg Rivera were able to make strong plays up the middle to gain ground, but the line left enough holes for the Panthers to get through to quarterback Logan Brown on third down, for a loss of yardage and forcing the punt.
When the Medina Valley offense took the field for the first time at Lion Stadium, they showed the crowd something they weren’t expecting. Putting together a long, quick drive, the Panthers struck first, combining an air and ground game for a touchdown with 5:57 on the clock.
Though they tried for the point-after, the kick was blocked by Belar Sneed, leaving the Lions trailing 6-0.
With the Lions back in control of the ball, Herman’s team put together another long drive on the ground, utilizing the strength and speed of Houston, Rivera and Garcia to push through the Panthers’ defensive line. The call of a late hit on Houston gave the Lions an extra opportunity, moving them nearly into the red at first-and-10 on the Panthers’ 11-yard line. But once again, penalty trouble plagued the Lions on third down, moving them back to the 15 on a false start.
Herman called on kicker Juan Ocampo, who split the uprights on a 42-yard field goal to put the Lions on the board at 6-3 mere seconds into the second quarter.
The ensuing kickoff brought the Panthers back to first-and-10 at the Lions’ 28, and the defense locked breaking up the developing plays at the line of scrimmage, Tyresse Purefoy and Logan Schnautz put enough pressure on the Panther quarterback for a sack on third down, forcing the punt to the Lions’ 45-yard line.
After the defense set up the short drive, the Lion offense took the field and played eight downs, capped by Garcia shaking off a defender and sneaking in for a 5-yard touchdown rush. Ocampo made good on the kick, finally allowing the Lions to take a 10-6 lead.
The Lion defense held strong, forcing the punt at midfield which was returned by Houston for first-and-10 at the 17. On the next snap, Houston got clear for a big gain, breaking right for a 26-yard rush.
Several small gains and a 15-yard loss for a chop-block penalty loss, Garcia once again got clear, rattling off 40 yards for a Lion touchdown and a good kick that opened the gap to 17-6 with only 1:16 left on the clock.
The defense, led in large part by Purefoy, who gained another sack and kept pressure on the quarterback throughout, was broken up before the buzzer, leaving the halftime score at 17-6.
The bulk of the third quarter was a defensive battle, with the Panthers unable to break through the Lions’ line, and the Lion offense falling short of putting together another scoring drive. As the seconds ticked away, Medina Valley took to the air, placing themselves in scoring position with just under two minutes on the clock.
The Panthers drove in for a short touchdown, but Sneed made a big hit in the backfield, breaking up the two-point conversion and stalling the scoring at 17-12.
The battle continued, with the Lion defense holding strong, though the offense began to show signs of wear into the fourth quarter.
Utilizing their air game, the Panthers continued to chip away at the Lion defense, finally making a hole to get in for a short touchdown with 2:30 left on the clock. Going for the conversion, the Panthers capitalized on Lion penalties and took a 20-17 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, which was padded by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Panthers, the Lions made a strong return, but were called back on a block in the back penalty, and took first-and-10 at the 38, with time for one last shot at the end zone. Holes in the offensive line and a false start penalty thwarted those hopes, though, as the Lions turned over on downs at the 42 yard line, with less than a minute on the clock, giving the Panthers the win as their quarterback took a knee to end the game.
Herman declined comment on the game, instead preferring to focus on the Lions’ upcoming standoff with the Marble Falls Mustangs. In their first match since the Mustangs were added to District 26-5A, the Lions will travel to Marble Falls on Friday night.
Despite the Friday night loss to Medina Valley, some scenarios keep the Lions alive in the playoff hunt, with two games left on the season. They will face Marble Falls, then return home to finish District play with a showdown with the Kerrville Tivy Antlers.