By Kathi Bliss and Rob Ortiz
District play started on Friday with a big win for the Lions, who traveled to Seguin to take on the Matadors as District 26-5A begins to establish its new pecking order.
Strong play on both sides of the ball helped the Lions take what started as an evenly-matched game into a huge victory over the Matadors, as the Lions blazed their way to a 48-28 win.
“Everyone understood the importance of getting the first district win,” Head Coach Brian Herman said. “Everyone took their game to a new level.”
The Matadors were the first to strike, capitalizing on their first offensive drive to power into the end zone early in the first quarter.
The Lions answered back immediately, with a big touchdown reception by Stephon Houston, who made it to the red on a rush but was called back on a penalty.
The Lions were able to shut down the Matadors on their next offensive drive, forcing a punt from the 48.
The Lions powered down the field on eight plays, capping the drive with Greg Rivera taking a 39-yard charge at the end zone, and other good kick from Juan Ocampo, putting the Lions out ahead, 14-7.
At the ensuing kickoff, the Matadors had to field the kick from the end zone, and were dropped at the 4-yard line. The Matadors were not able to capitalize, though, as Micah Jackson snapped up an interception at the 33, and returned it 15 yards to put the Lions back in the drivers seat.
It would be only for a short time, though; the Matador defense held, taking the ball back and eventually crossing the goal line to tie the score at 14.
At that point, though, the Lions had had enough. They began an offensive assault that the Matadors were powerless against, coupled with a defensive lockdown that Seguin could not break through until the final quarter.
“It was a great team win with many contributing in ways they may not have expected,” Herman said. “It felt like the team grew together just a bit more on Friday.”
A part of that growth was an energetic offensive strategy that seemed to leave the Matadors confused at every turn. With nearly 20 percent of the Lions’ gains in yardage coming from the air, some Lion fans were startled, but pleased, as well.
The Lions opened the gap in the second quarter as the offensive line made way for the Lions to move the ball upfield on a long, slow drive. With just over two minutes in the half, Austin Garcia hit pay dirt on a 4-yard push up the middle, widening the gap to 21-14.
The defense went on to crush the Matadors’ next try at a drive, with the help of Roman Ruiz and a big sack on the quarterback at third-and-long from the 18-yard line.
Taking over from the Matadors’ 45, the Lions ticked seconds off the clock on another surge. With only two seconds on the clock, Houston grabbed a 24-yard reception, opening the door for Tyresse Purefoy to rumble into the end zone and close the half with a 28-14 lead for the Lions.
Coming out after halftime, the Matadors took a risk with an onside kick. The gamble failed as the Lions took possession at the 48, and two plays later, after Houston and Garcia teamed up for 45 yards, Greg Rivera drifted right and into the end zone. With the good kick, the Lions were up 35-14 with 11:02 on the clock in the quarter.
“With so many changes on the offensive line we have been a little more creative on how we advance the ball and create opportunities for our playmakers,” Herman said.
Pressure from the defensive line kept the Matadors contained, creating yet another opportunity on a short drive from the Lions’ offense.
Once again, the line marched into striking distance and threw a surprise into the mix when quarterback Logan Brown connected with Logan Schnautz on a 15-yard touchdown, taking the lead to 42-14 going into the fourth.
With the lead secure, Herman started to rotate in his secondary; a decision that would cost the Lions defensively, but not enough to create real concern about the victory.
“Ideally we would like to get as many kids in the game as possible for a multitude of reasons,” he said. One of those reasons, inevitably, is to counteract injuries – which the Lions have suffered frequently thus far this season.
“We have been proud of the players that have stepped up to fill spots due to injuries,” he said. “It is a weekly adjustment that we have to make sure we have the right pieces of the puzzle in the right places.
On Friday night, those pieces seemed to click, regardless of the two touchdowns the Lions dropped in the fourth. They were still able to continue putting points on the board, ending the night on the high end of the 48-28 win.
“As a team we all have individual jobs that need to be done,” Rivera said. “Each of us must do our job at a high level to be the best we can be. I know my number may not always be called but I still have to do my job to win.”
It’s not just the team that has a job to do, Daequan Ellison reminds us.
“The fans are a big reason we go out there on Friday nights and give it our all, they are our 12th man on the field,” he said. “When we are down we listen for our roaring fans to lift us up and motivate us.”
Moving forward, Herman estimates that, to avoid a tie-breaker, the Lions need to win no fewer than five District games, which will require everyone to do their part.
With only one game down, District standings by season’s end are anyone’s guess. Currently, the Lions stand in fourth place behind Boerne-Champion, Alamo Heights and Dripping Springs, according to MaxPreps.com. Elsewhere in District 26-5A, the Alamo Heights Mules crushed Marble Falls 42-16, and Dripping Springs routed Kerrville Tivy, 26-7.
“Our health and weekly development will have a huge impact on our final district standings and playoff implications,” he said. Rivera expanded on the idea.
“We [have] a trust in confidence in each other that we will do whatever needs to be done,” he said. “It all starts in 2-A-Days, when we are out there in the heat working as hard as we can. When we are enduring and lifting up the guy next to us we make a special bonds that can’t be broken.”
The Lions grow those bonds at home this week as they take on the traditional district powerhouse Boerne-Champion Chargers. The Chargers (3-1 [1-0]) made short work of Castroville Medina Valley last week, with a 42-0 win.
After special “Old Timers’ Night” celebrations, kickoff is slated at 7:30 p.m.