By Kathi Bliss
In a game long on heart and short on time, the Lions dropped their season opener to Victoria West on Friday night, running out of time before they could climb to the top of a 35-34 score.
The last moments of the game were colored with victory turned to heartbreak, as Brandon Clinger snagged a 22-yard buzzer-beating touchdown pass to bring the Lions within one. That victory turned to tension as referees penalized Lockhart for “excessive celebration” and moved the extra-point kick back 10 yards, to the 18-yard line.
With the stakes high and overtime on the line, kicker Jordon Johnson stepped up, and, after pinpointing four extra point attempts before it, swung wide, closing the game at a crushing 34-35.
After a scoreless, back and forth battle in the first quarter, the Lions broke the game open just over a minute into the second, as they pressed on an 83-yard drive ending in the first score of the game on the first of Clinger’s two touchdown receptions.
Johnson’s kick slipped easily through the goalposts, putting the Lions up 7-0.
Unfortunately, the Warriors answered almost immediately with their own scoring drive, and then they held the Lions low for the remainder of the half.
As the clock ticked down on the half, the Warriors pulled ahead 21-7, and a 69-yard run from senior Juan Lopez fell just short of the end zone, closing the half with the Lions trailing.
A revitalized Lion squad took the field after the break, ready to open up and take charge.
The defensive lines pushed back and forth through the first minutes of the quarter, and the Lions broke away with an 85-yard drive that ended with Lopez taking an 8-yard walk across the goal line.
Johnson’s good kick brought the Lions back to 21-14 and lit a fuse that would burn through the rest of the half.
Victoria West answered with another touchdown, which the Lions followed up with a 4-yard touchdown scamper from quarterback CJ McKinney.
As the Warriors threatened to score again, Clinger broke up a touchdown pass in the end zone, earning a penalty but breaking momentum and keeping Victoria West from scoring.
On their next offensive drive, the Lions covered the field again, capping the drive with a 33-yard touchdown run from McKinney and yet another on-target kick from Johnson.
With just over 90 seconds left on the clock, Victoria scored again, leaving the Lions with 1:31 to cover nearly 80 yards of ground.
The offense marched forward, pushing toward the end zone and scoring their final points just as the buzzer sounded.
Despite the loss, Head Coach Brian Herman told the team that he was pleased with the result and looking forward to what comes next.
He encouraged to take heart from the improvements made from the first half to the second, and to keep improving every time they come to the field.
“When the season ends, if we do that, we’ll continue improving right into the playoffs,” he said.
The next challenge for the Lions is their home opener, which will take place on Friday night as they square off with the Crockett Cougars.
Crockett fell 23-26 to Akins in their season opener last week, and fell 35-19 to the Lions in their last meeting, in last year’s non-district matchup.
All told last year, the Cougars went 3-7 on the season, and 2-3 in District. They averaged 21.9 points per game, with 32.4 points scored against them, according to MaxPreps.
Kickoff is scheduled at Lion Stadium at 7:30 p.m.