By Kathi Bliss and Rob Ortiz
It started out looking like an all-out defensive battle. It didn’t look that way for long.
The Lions traveled to San Antonio on Friday night, a halfway-point meeting with the Laredo LBJ Wolves. Having never faced each other before, both teams were wary, if confident, and took the field for the final week of pre-season play convinced they could take home the victory.
At the end of the first quarter, it still looked like it could be anyone’s game.
The Lions’ defense started the night on point, shutting down the Wolves’ first drive by pushing them deep into the backfield on two consecutive plays, and allowing them only three net yards on the drive.
The Lions took over at the Wolves’ 39-yard line, but stacked up a series of penalties and missed opportunities that forced the punt at fourth-and-long.
“We have struggled with some officials’ understanding of our offense and blocking schemes,” Head Coach Brian Herman said on Monday evening. “As we get into District that should improve.”
Indeed, penalties did prove costly for the Lions on Friday night, as they lost 108 yards on eight penalties. The Wolves, on the other hand, lost only 60 yards on nine penalties.
Throughout the first, the two teams continued to trade defensive blows, running time off the clock without putting any points on the board.
In the second, however, the Lions opened up their engines, and answered the question of who was likely to walk away with the win
As the Lions engaged in their first offensive drive of the quarter, they used their speed and strength to blow through the Wolves’ line, setting Austin Garcia up for a 25-yard run up the middle for the Lions’ first touchdown on the night.
Juan Ocampo split the uprights to put the Lions up 7-0.
Meanwhile, the Wolves’ offense was rendered virtually powerless by the Lions’ defensive line, who Herman said were “swarming,” and “flying to the ball.”
So intent on getting to the ball were the Lions that the LBJ drive was broken up when defensive back Micah Jackson snagged an interception and returned it for 10 yards deep into the Wolves’ territory.
Garcia teamed with Stephon Houston and the Offensive Line to march the ball back to the red zone, with Houston capping the drive with a two-yard push for a touchdown.
“We only had seven offensive plays in the first quarter,” Herman said. “In the second and third, we scored 14 points each. After mounting a 28-point lead, we began substituting (midway through the third), and we weren’t quite as explosive.”
Still, it was enough.
Throughout the second, and well into the third, the Lion defense continued to crush every effort the Wolves made to get across the goal line, while the offense continued to find the holes in LBJ’s armor. Under the watchful eye of strong hits from their line, both Houston and Garcia were able to find their way back into the end zone, while Ocampo stayed consistent and put point-after-attempts through the goal posts. By the end of the third, the Lions were leading 28-0.
As the fourth quarter began, the Lions’ defense faced their first true test of the night.
With a driving rushing attack, the Wolves were able to break through and scrape their way inside the Lions’ 15.
Still, as the Wolves stood at third-and-7, Diego Mendoza came through big with an open-field tackle that drove the Wolves to fourth-and-long. Daequan Ellison followed up with tight defense on the pass, stopping the drive and forcing the Wolves to turn over on downs.
With their secondary on the field, the Lions struggled offensively in the fourth, gaining ground only to lose it to penalties almost immediately, and turning the ball over to the Wolves at the Lions’ 38-yard line.
This gave the Wolves the only chance they would have to score on the night.
After a short rush on third-and-goal for the touchdown, LBJ’s kick went wide, freezing their scoring at six points, with eight minutes left in the game.
The rest of the night was a back-and-forth, with neither team gaining enough traction to find the end zone before the clock finally ticked out on a 28-6 Lion win.
“We needed the win to prove that we could win, and we overcame injuries and penalties to do it,” Herman said. “I’m proud of the team for overcoming adversity and getting the win.”
The Lions hope to take that momentum into this Friday night, as they face off with the Seguin Matadors (1-2) on the road, in the first District contest of the season. While they might be confident, the Lions are certainly not arrogant.
“We can always improve on tackling,” Jackson said after weekend practices. “Our coverage was better, but not as sharp as it could be. Our line is very athletic and strong.”
That strength will be necessary against the Matadors, who Herman said are playing with “newfound purpose” and are “improved and energetic” under their new coaching staff.
“We will just have to wait and see,” Houston said. “We are quicker than we have been. Everyone was worried about our size, but our speed has worked to our advantage.”
The Lions will take on the Matadors at Matador Stadium, 815 Lamar Dr., in Seguin, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The game is expected to set much of the tone for District play, and the Lions need the support of any Lion fan who is able to travel.