Penalties, turnovers plague Lions in season opener
By LPR Staff & Rob Ortiz
In a game marked by early-season jitters, the Lions gave up three touchdowns on turnovers to open their season on Friday night with a 34-45 loss to the Pflugerville Connally Cougars.
“Before the game, we talked about that one bad play will not cost you the game,” Coach Brian Herman sai
d on Monday. “Unfortunately, we had way more than one, that they capitalized on.”
Even so, there were several moments in the first half that allowed the Lions to shine; the second half belonged to Lockhart almost entirely.
All eyes were on the sky as the game opened, as storms gathered around the stadium. None came close enough, though, to trigger a lightning delay as the teams got their seasons off the ground.
Herman’s Lions won the toss, and as is their habit, chose to defer to the second. The Lions were able to shut down the Cougars’ first offensive drive, forcing a punt at fourth-and-13.
After taking a penalty for a chop block, the Lions got the ball into the hands of senior running back Stephon Houston, who went for a 53-yard ride to bring the Lions to their own 13. Junior quarterback Logan Brown hit pay dirt on the next play on a 13-yard keeper. Returning kicker Juan Ocampo split the uprights giving the Lions the first and only lead they would enjoy for the rest of the game.
The Cougars answered on their next drive pushing a pass over the goal line from eight yards out. On the following kickoff, the rails started to come off for the Lions. The Cougars recovered a short kick and capitalized on Lockhart’s missteps and penalties to find their way right back to the end zone.
Early in the second, the Lions tied it up with a surprise, as Brown fired the ball into the end zone, into the hands of junior tight end Joe John Colurciello, who has worked with coaches on receiving since the off season.
“That is a play we practice every day, so that he is ready when it is open,” Herman said. “And, boy, was he open!”
The Lions were not able to use the excitement to gain traction, though.
Despite pressure from the defense, additional missteps led to more penalties for the Lions, allowing the Cougars to once again find their way to the end zone. A blocked punt was returned for another touchdown, and a 76-yard interception return opened the Cougars’ lead to 35-14.
“I think there were some wide-eyed first game issues for some,” Herman said. “We will work on the special teams errors, and potentially make some personnel decisions, as we will for offense and defense.”
During the halftime break, the Lions adjusted their mindset, and came back for the second half ready to turn things around. Unfortunately, as the Lions closed in on the red zone, a Lion rusher fumbled the ball, which the Cougars scooped up for a 78-yard touchdown return.
That score, though, was the last straw for the Lions.
The offensive line buckled down on the next drive, eventually blowing open a hole that allowed junior running back Austin Garcia to gain 54 yards, and the momentum the Lions needed.
After inching up the field, Garcia powered into the end zone on a three-yard rush to put another six points on the board for the Lions.
The defense put up a wall during the next drive, twice forcing the Cougars into the backfield and finally culminating in a fourth-and-7 punt.
As the fourth quarter began, the Lions were back in possession of the ball, relying heavily on Garcia to move toward the end zone. He barreled in again, from inches out, and narrowed the gap to 42-26.
Big hits from senior defensive back Cahil Murchisonand a sack by defensive lineman Roman Ruiz put the Cougars off guard; the defensive pressure forced a fumble for senior defensive lineman Tyresse Purefoy to recover and put the Lions back in control.
After another good drive, beginning at Connally’s 17-yard line, Garcia found his way back into the end zone, and Brown followed up on a keeper for the two-point conversion, putting the Lions back in striking distance at 42-34 with a little over seven minutes on the clock.
The Cougars forced their way into the red, and capped off their scoring with a 21-yard field goal kick to broaden the gap to 34-45 with 3:32 left.
The Lions’ final attempt at an offensive drive failed as the ball slipped from the carrier’s hands with a little more than a minute to go. The Cougars’ offense came back to the field and chose to run out the clock.
“Mistakes that we could overcome last year will cost us greatly this year,” Herman said. “We realize that our schedule is much tougher.
The next test for the Lions will be on Friday night, as they play their home opener against Victoria West.
“We look forward to an energetic crowd and a competitive contest against a very tough opponent,” Herman said. “Victoria West is coming off their best season in school history. Both teams have much to prove and are determined to correct their mistakes and obtain their first win.”
Kickoff is slated at 7:30 p.m.