Losing the battle to win the war
By LPR Staff
With a decision that drew as much criticism as praise, Head Coach Brian Herman has led the Lions to a second consecutive playoff berth, despite a bruising 35-17 loss to the San Marcos Rattlers on Friday night.
“That was the last thing in the world I wanted to do,” Herman said on Monday of the
shocking decision to give up two touchdowns in the final moments of Friday night’s final regular-season game. “We went in with every intention of winning that game, and I think our performance right up until those last four minutes reflects that.”
Indeed, for more than three quarters, the Lions and the Rattlers traded offensive blows and defensive battles as they slugged it out for the fourth and final playoff spot in District 27-5A.
But the tide turned with just over four minutes left on the clock, as Herman discovered what he had to do to keep the team’s season alive.
“I was sick about it,” he said. “No coach should ever have to be in that position, but I think it shows an amazing amount of trust between our kids and the coaches that they did what we asked them to do, even though it went against everything competitive, and they didn’t really understand why we were asking them to do the things we were asking.”
During their all-district meeting last week, coaches from across District 27-5A discussed the interpretation of the rules that dictate tie-breakers for playoff spots, in anticipation of a potential three-way tie between the Lions, the Rattlers and the Alamo Heights Mules.
The original interpretation of the rule dictated a combination of net points and head-to-head competition. In that scheme, Alamo Heights would have secured their playoff bid, having beat San Marcos, but lost to Lockhart.
However, five of the nine coaches suggested the rules should be interpreted differently, based strictly on net points. In the original scenario, Lockhart, who was (+8) after defeating Alamo Heights 44-36, would have needed a victory, or a loss by nine points or less over San Marcos (-10) to advance. Heights would have had a direct pass to the playoffs, regardless of the outcome of their standoff with Kerrville Tivy on Friday.
However, the coaches voted to take into account the Alamo Heights point spread (+2) in determining the playoff structure. The rule would require Lockhart to maintain their lead by winning or by losing by fewer than six points (to remain ahead of Alamo Heights in net points). That scenario would have bumped San Marcos from the playoffs.
In the alternative, if San Marcos was able to bridge the gap, make up their (-10) net points, and surpass Heights (+2), then Alamo Heights would be bumped from the playoffs, and both Lockhart and San Marcos would advance.
“That’s something that we didn’t agree with, and that I would have voted against, if I could,” Herman said. The coaches from Lockhart, San Marcos and Alamo Heights were prevented from voting with the rest of the District on the rule interpretation, which Boerne-Champion stood alone against.
Herman said his coaching staff spent several days working every possible scenario under the new rules, but did not share those strategies with the team.
“I didn’t want anyone to go in thinking that we could tank this game, and still go on,” he said. “I wanted us to show up to win, and that’s what we tried to do.”
But, as the clock wound down, Herman’s plans shifted.
“In those last minutes, there were several things that could have happened, that we still could have covered the numbers,” he said. “But that left someone else in control of our destiny, and the one thing we’ve tried to do, all season, is be the ones in control of our destiny.”
Herman said he didn’t feel out of control in the first quarter, as the Rattlers put up a long, slow drive to pull ahead 7-0 in the first four minutes of play.
In fact, he said, despite some fumble trouble on their first kickoff return, the Lions were able to put together big stops on the Rattlers’ second drive, forcing the turnover on downs.
The Rattlers returned the favor, forcing a Lions’ punt, but the defense held strong, recovering a fumbleto regain possession, and eventually set up for senior DJ Ellison to rumble across the goal line to tie the score with just a minute left in the first.
The brutal defensive battle continued throughout the second, with both teams making big plays and earning gains, but neither one being able to find the end zone.
“Our defense played an incredible game,” Herman said. “They were able to step up and do everything they were supposed to do, and I don’t want anyone thinking the score reflects them not doing their job. Even in those last few minutes, they were doing their jobs, because they were doing what we were asking them.”
As minutes ticked off the clock toward halftime, the Lions were able to put together a clock-running drive that put Juan Ocampo in the position for a 39-yard field-goal attempt.
He was successful in splitting the uprights, closing the half with the Lions up 10-7.
Rested after halftime, the teams returned to the field, as strong on defense as they were before the break.
The Rattlers broke up the Lions’ first offensive drive, stopping Stephon Houston just short of a first down, and took possession to stun Lockhart with a long pass that put San Marcos in position to take a 13-10 lead.
Pushing back, the Lions trundled up the field, burning most of the third quarter and nearly half of the fourth, before Ellison leapt over several defenders for the Lions’ second touchdown on the night, putting the Lions back on top at 17-13.
Seconds later, the Rattlers answered by connecting another strong pass and converting to take the 21-17 lead.
The Lions took the ball back with 5:37 on the clock, and had a touchdown in their grasp, when a fumble deep inside Rattler territory gave San Marcos the ball at their own 19.
They promptly took it downfield, deep into the red.
“It was at that point, for the first time all season, that we weren’t in control of our own destiny,” Herman said. “I knew that the defense had one more big stop in them, but at that point, them getting that touchdown and going up by 11 points, we were outside of that magic number.”
In Herman’s head, the wheels were turning. In the stands, it looked as though the wheels had come off.
“We told them to go ahead and let them score,” he said. “And that put us back in control of the ball, and back in control of our own destiny.”
That destiny led the Lions to intentionally lose yardage after the kickoff return, dropping farther and farther back until, finding himself in the end zone, Houston dropped the football, counting on the Rattlers to pick it up – which they did.
“We didn’t practice any of that, because that wasn’t a strategy we were thinking we were ever going to have to use,” he said. “We were calling the plays, but what they were doing, they were kind of doing on the fly to get us to where we wanted to be.”
Herman didn’t share the ultimate outcome with his team until after the game was over.
“No one wanted to do that, and we sure didn’t want to come out of Friday night with a loss,” he said. “But they understand now that we did what gave us our best chance to preserve our season and go on to the playoffs, and getting us to the playoffs has been one of our goals since August.”
It was a gamble, he said, but it was a gamble that paid off.
“We had a good team meeting about it, and we’re getting ready in practice this week to move forward, to put this behind us and go on to win against Highlands.”
Finishing second in their district, the San Antonio Highlands Owls operate on a run-heavy offense, similar to the Lions’ own patterns, and are expected to put up an evenly-matched playoff game for the Lions on Friday night.
In an unusual twist, the Lions won the toss for the playoff game, and will hence play hosts, taking the home-field advantage for the first round of playoffs. The game will be played at Lion Stadium on Friday, Nov. 13, with kickoff slated at 7:30 p.m.
Gates will open at 6 p.m., and no reserved seating will be available – all tickets will be sold as general admission, $7 for adults, $4 for students. For tickets, contact the Lockhart Lion Athletic Department at (512) 398-0350.