By Kathi Bliss
With a new UIL District and a new outlook on their sport, the Lockhart Lions roared back into action on Friday night with a big 46-20 win over the Austin Reagan Raiders.
After bobbling the first play of the game and allowing the Raiders to return the first kick for a touchdown, the Lions dug in their heels and dominated the remainder of the first half of the game, racking up 27 points while only allowing the Raiders to find the end zone one more time.
After the disorienting kickoff return that put the Lions behind in the first seconds of the game, the Lion offense took the field in style, with a 58-yard march downfield on their first drive, capping it with an 18-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Nick Sanchez to Ronald Hutchinson. Kicker Enrique Villegas failed to make good on the extra point kick, tying the score at 6-6.
An assembly of Lions on the defensive line stopped the Raiders’ next drive, when a bad snap on a third-down play brought possession back to the Lions. The Lions pushed downfield again, with DJ Ellison finding pay dirt on a 2-yard scramble to give the Lions the lead they would hold for the rest of the night.
A solid kick from Villegas put the score at 13-6.
After trading defensive blows for the rest of the first quarter, the Lions found themselves in fumble trouble in the second. Back-to-back fumbles on the first play of two drives put the Raiders deep in Lion territory at the 24-yard line. Depsite stacking up penalties in the red zone, the Raiders put together a short scoring drive, and pulled themselves back to a tied score at 13.
“Our number one priority this week as it is every week is to strengthen our weaknesses that appeared on film,” Head Coach Brian Herman said, not referring specifically to his teams slippery fingers. He also acknowledged in the post-game meeting with the team that many, many good things happened on the field on Friday night.
Among them, the Lions were able to keep the Raiders out of the end zone for the rest of the first half, and for nearly the rest of the game, while still stacking up points of their own.
The third successful scoring drive of the night for the Lions happened with just over three minutes left in the half, when Hutchinson was able to break away from the Raiders for a 54-yard touchdown run.
Ace running back Curtis Hawkins followed up with 77-yard rush of his own, padding the Lion’s lead to 27-13 after two more good kicks from Villeagas.
In the receiving position after the half, the Lions put together another good drive, and Hawkins found his way back to the end zone just over a minute off the clock.
The Lion defense clamped down again, with senior Bailey Girouard leading the charge against the Raiders quarterback, in the process offering up a series of tackles for a loss, and a sack against the quarterback. Reagan got into penalty trouble, and the Lions forced a turnover on downs, which they capitalized for another tough offensive push.
Starting from the Raiders’ 41-yard line, the Lions inched their way downfield, until the O-line made a hole big enough for sophomore running back Vincent Nevils to slip through on a 23-yard scamper to the end zone. Although the Raiders blocked the kick, the Lions had widened their lead to 40-13.
The Raiders came up with a big return on the kick, but the Lions were able to not only stop them, but push them back with a series of quarterback sacks, deflected pass attempts and tackles for a loss.
The Lions started the fourth quarter with penalty trouble, making a drive deep into Raider territory, only to get forced back on calls for holding, an illegal block, and delay of game.
With members of the rattled offense playing both ways, the Lions were unable to stop a final scoring drive from the Raiders, when a back slipped through the defensive line on a 25-yard journey to the end zone. A good kick shrunk the Lions’ lead to 40-20.
“We can’t get lazy when we get ahead like that,” Hutchinson said after the game. “We have to encourage each other to keep playing, no matter what the score is.”
Keep playing, they did.
Taking a final possession with seven minutes on the clock, the Lions made a series of small gains, and sophomore Stephon Houston found his way into the end zone. A bad snap on the extra point kick stopped scoring at 46-20.
Girouard, a senior captain and leader on the defensive line, noted after the game that there is a new feeling in the locker room this season, as the Lions start their year with success.
“You can just see that there is more character, and we’re working harder than we did last season,” he said. “We’re growing from what we learned last year, and making it better.”
Newcomer Shea Brewer, playing for the first time on the Varsity team, said he was excited about how the team looked so far.
“We came out hard and we played as a team,” he said. “Wins happen when we do that. We all have a new attitude… it’s like we have a new beginning.”
Herman, too, is pleased with many parts of their performance, but nervous about getting ready for the Crockett Cougars next week.
“A new challenge that we face this week is one less day of preparation, since we play on Thursday,” he said. “[Crockett’s] number one strength is their big plays. They have some explosive weapons on offense that we must account for. Each player must do their job and not get caught up trying to do too much. If each player focuses on their responsibility we should be in good shape.”
The game against Crockett is the last before the Lions open District play against the San Antonio Memorial Minutemen, who fell 30-8 to Carrizo Springs in their first game of the season.
Elsewhere in District 27-5A, the Alamo Heights Mules crushed New Braunfels, 31-0, and the Floresville Tigers defeated Highlands 13-7. Boerne-Champion ravaged the Hays Rebels, 44-27 and the San Marcos Rattlers edged East Central in a high-scoring 56-59 win.
San Antonio Kennedy fell 43-14 to Victoria East, Seguin lost 54-21 to Vista Ridge, and the Kerrville Tivy Antlers fell 56-58 to Big Spring.
courtesy of Rob Ortiz)