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updated 9:21 AM, Oct 22, 2020 America/Chicago

Polk County

Breaking down barriers

Livingston Football 19OCT2020Photo by Linda Jacobs and Jo’Hannah Proctor Livingston quarterback Damian Ruiz (3) dives into the end zone during the Lions’ 35-14 win at Splendora Friday night. Ruiz ran for two touchdowns and threw three more touchdown passes.

By Brian Besch

MONTGOMERY COUNTY – Livingston football keeps rolling, defeating the rival Wildcats 35-14 in Splendora Friday night. The team utilized the efforts of its defense and a balanced attack on offense to win in impressive fashion.

The Livingston Lions have become one of the better stories of Class 4A football in 2020. A team for which many predicted a basement finish has won five straight games, has a 2-0 record in district play, and is trending toward a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

“That was a long time coming,” Livingston head coach Finis Vanover said. “Three years of grueling misery, shame, embarrassment and whippings. These seniors stuck it out and went through three years of that misery and they have made a commitment and a promise, and they are fulfilling every bit of it right now. All it took was to trust us to show you how to get there and you have to trust the Lord’s gift that you have and not waste it.”

It was just two years ago that Splendora defeated the Lions 87-21, with not-so-subtle celebrations after each score. Last year, the Wildcats enjoyed a 48-15 win on the same field. Proud of the team’s performance, the coach said accomplishments like the win Friday were something that would not have happened in the past.

“Not the last two years, but this fall when they showed up, the way they scrimmaged and the way they played Needville, I knew there was something really special going on. We are not as good as we can even be yet. That is the beauty. They (Splendora) are tapped out,” Vanover said pointing to the opposing sideline. “They can't play any better than they have the last two or three weeks. They got matched physically tonight, speed beat them, scheme beat them, and a kneel down on the 1-yard line.”

Splendora (3-4, 1-1) began with the lead at 7-0.

Livingston quarterback Damian Ruiz then led two touchdown drives, ending the first with a 26-yard touchdown strike to Julian Gardner and another on a six-yard run.

The Wildcats’ Zane Obregon, who had both Splendora touchdowns and 106 yards rushing, scored once more. But the home team’s success ended there.

The Lion defense that has been the squad’s reliable unit made a few adjustments and did not allow further damage.

“We made some personnel movements and coach went to a different front,” Vanover said of the defense. “There was just a change in alignment with them and we moved them around to try to get them in some spaces. We couldn't match up with them and it took us that first series to realize that. We had to bring some blitzes and bring some heat from different directions and the coaches did a great job adjusting during the first half, but especially at halftime. (Defensive coordinator Dalton Murray), the secondary coaches and the outside linebacker guys did a great job getting the kids clued in on what we needed to do the second half to get some stops.”

Ruiz (9-for-15, 219 yards, INT, 3 TDs) would later hit Izzy Enard on a 25-yard touchdown pass, sneak in his second rushing six-pointer, and find Gardner again for a 52-yard pass to score.

Gardner had five catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. If that wasn’t enough, the junior standout added an interception while playing defense.

Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs lose defensive struggle, 6-0

Corrigan football 19Oct2020PHOTO BY ALBERT TREVINO The Corrigan-Camden defense takes down an Anderson-Shiro running back during Friday’s 6-0 loss in Anderson.

By Albert Trevino

POLK COUNTY– The Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs fell to the Anderson-Shiro Fighting Owls in a 6-0 shutout from Grimes County.

In a low-scoring showcase for both defenses, the Owls needed just one scoring possession to make the difference in Friday’s district matchup.

Anderson-Shiro’s defense locked down on the Bulldog rush attack and put consistent pressure on sophomore quarterback Christian Hood throughout the night.

On the opening drive, Corrigan’s offense put together a couple of runs to get past midfield before stalling out and having to punt. The Bulldogs continued to struggle in the first quarter with three-consecutive three-and-outs inside their own territory.

The Owls also had trouble moving the ball early, although they averaged stronger field position.

The Bulldog defense made key stops in the first half to help prevent Anderson-Shiro from reaching the red zone. This included a turnover on downs and two straight three-and-outs.

Late in the second quarter, Corrigan started to find some rhythm, marching down the field from their own 8-yard line. Hood threw a first-down pass to sophomore running back JaVarion Williams, then ran the ball to help reach Owl territory.

However, time ran out for Corrigan and the offense suffered two straight sacks looking for the deep pass play. This left it scoreless at halftime.

Anderson-Shiro came out swinging in the third quarter and shocked the Bulldog defense with a quick scoring drive that would ultimately decide the match.

Owl senior quarterback Cole Werner and senior tight end Kelvin Adair both ran for large chucks to reach a first and goal. This set up Adair for a one-yard touchdown run up the middle with the missed extra point for a six-point game.

Corrigan’s offense continued to show decline in the second half, while the defense bounced back to prevent any further big-play opportunities for the Owls. Williams made the defensive play of the game late in the fourth quarter with an interception in the end zone.

Despite having two more chances to respond in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs could not establish field position beyond a couple of first-down conversions.

In the final minutes during Corrigan’s last possession, Hood converted on a fourth down with a pass to Williams to reach near midfield. The Owls responded with more pressure on Hood and forced a quick turnover on downs to seal the game.

Corrigan is set to host the New Waverly Bulldogs for the next district game this Friday.

Bulldog football underway

The Bulldogs began practice this week and new head coach Brett Ratliff said he is impressed with his squad’s effort. (Photo by Brian Besch)The Bulldogs began practice this week and new head coach Brett Ratliff said he is impressed with his squad’s effort. (Photo by Brian Besch)

By Brian Besch
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Polk County-Once in earshot of the Corrigan-Camden practice fields, you can hear both music and the sounds of football. Athletes are upbeat during the heated workouts, paced by the sound system on the sidelines and coaching whistles on the field.

Football season has begun on the north end of Polk County.

"I'm really excited about the kids and the way they have been able to match my intensity and what I am wanting," new Bulldog head coach Brett Ratliff said. "Structurally, I think it is probably pretty different from what they are used to from a practice standpoint. In the first day, you can kind of tell that. After that day, they really  haven't missed a beat."

Ratliff describes his practices as "very rhythmic," explaining that he likes to have players run everywhere they go. The fast pace is expected to serve his team well on Friday nights in the future.

Corrigan fans are likely to see many more receivers on offense than they have in previous years. The 'Dogs could be seen running many three and four wide receiver sets during 11-on-11 drills Thursday afternoon.

"We are heavy 21 (personnel), where we are going to run a tight end and two backs. That is my bread-and-butter, whether it be in the gun, or a flexed out tight end, or pro I. We're going to do both and be good at both, and we are going to make our money on that. I'm not scared to go to by 2x2 (two receivers to either side) or 3x1 (three receivers to one side, one on the other) and spread the field out."

Wide receivers stayed busy catching screens, along with intermediate and deep routes. The backs took part in the passing game and ran the option.

The new-look defense flew to the football, having multiple tacklers ready to make plays.

Changes on that defense will be from a 3-4 look or 50 front, to more of a 4-3 alignment that Ratliff believes will suit his athletes.

"It is a defense made to run and it is a defense made to have great secondary kids," he said. "We have a really strong secondary. They know what to do, they play really well and they are fast. We have three linebackers that can run sideline to sideline and then we have some big defensive tackles."

There is plenty of learning on both sides of the ball, as athletes are picking up the nuances of their new system through chalk talk videos and discussion before practice even begins.

The coach said having a young team with few seniors concerns him a bit, but is excited about the talent that is there. There will be approximately eight seniors on the team and the coach is hoping to carry 26-28 players on the varsity.

The team will feature plenty of sophomores, but several have had varsity experience. On the 3A level, Ratliff says depth will always be an issue.

"I'll be honest with you, on day one we came in and I wasn't defeated or worried, but I was just a little stressed because it was so different for the guys from a practice standpoint. It was just the sheer amount of moving that we do at practice. I was wondering if we were trying to go too fast or trying to do too much.

"I told myself that I was going to stay the course and just see the next couple of days how they progressed. I am very pleased with our progression right now. I won't say that we are ahead of schedule, but we are definitely not behind. I think we are right where we need to be right now and we are ready to get into the pads and really see some things."

Lions obtain district win

Izelhia Enard carries past the block of Lion offensive lineman Caleb Gann to pick up yardage. (Photo by Jo’Hannah Proctor)Izelhia Enard carries past the block of Lion offensive lineman Caleb Gann to pick up yardage. (Photo by Jo’Hannah Proctor)

By Albert Trevino

The Livingston Lions came from behind Saturday for a 35-14 victory at home against the Lumberton Raiders in the first district match of the season.

In a game delayed because of weather, the Lions bounced back early to score four unanswered touchdowns and controlled most of the game. Livingston’s offense and defense stepped up when needed, according to Lion head coach Finis Vanover.

“Both sides bailed each other out. Offensive mistakes were covered up by great plays on defense. When defense had a lag or we slacked off, the offense came back and took it down to score. We balanced each other out today.” said Vanover. “Right now, we do not have a great knockout punch. We just keep leaving them hanging. That is all we talked about at halftime … We have to knock them out so we can finish it.”

Livingston’s offense put together a long scoring drive to open the game, which included junior quarterback Damian Ruiz sneaking a fourth-down conversion to keep the possession alive.

Shortly after, Ruiz completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to freshman Ja’Marri Green. Along with the extra kick, the score gave the Lions an early seven-point lead.

Going into the second quarter, Lumberton responded with a touchdown drive to tie the game. A sneak on third down by Raider senior quarterback Drake Boykin set up an eight-yard touchdown run by sophomore Brady Fuselier.

The Raiders recovered the following onside kick and were able to capitalize on another scoring opportunity.

Boykin completed a deep pass to sophomore receiver Kaleb Koch, which helped set up a five-yard run to the end zone by Boykin. The short run gave Lumberton a 14-7 lead early in the second.

The Lion offense answered back from inside the red zone, with Ruiz scrambling his way for a touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.

Lumberton was quickly forced to punt on its next possession. The high and short punt gave the Lions good field position at the Raiders’ 43-yard line. 

This time, Ruiz scrambled and stiff armed defenders to nearly reach the end zone. Two plays later, Lion junior running back Lynn Johnson punched it in from a yard out for a touchdown to take a 21-14 lead.

“We threw it and caught the ball really well off of some great scrambles by the quarterback. [Ruiz] made a bunch of plays with his feet. That is a blessing and gift that he has. We have an offense that takes advantage of that and is built around that.” Vanover said.

Livingston extended the lead on their next possession late in the half. The short drive finished with Ruiz dropping a long-distance pass to Lion senior receiver Chris Washington in the end zone to go up 28-14 at halftime.

Both offenses were scoreless and suffered turnovers during the third quarter, but the Lions would put together one more fruitful drive in the fourth, despite starting from its own goal line. First-down runs by Ruiz and Johnson were followed by a 58-yard touchdown pass to Lion junior receiver Willie Fagan.

The Lion defense shut out the Raiders for the entire second half, making crucial third and fourth-down stops.

“The defensive linemen made some great plays upfront when they had to. We found a soft spot when [Lumberton] was running the quarterback lead. We were starting to run out of gas and they got their motors running. But overall, we clamped down pretty well.” said Vanover.

 

The Lions are scheduled to travel this week to play the Splendora Wildcats, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. Friday.

High school athletics to begin in August

07 21 UIL delay graph

By Brian Besch
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Polk County-An announcement from the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Tuesday revealed the state’s larger schools will endure a month-long setback for high school fall sports. 

The good news for enthusiasts of football, volleyball, cross country and tennis in Polk County is that the long drought without sports is likely over in August.

Class 6A and Class 5A schools will have the start of practices pushed back from Aug. 3 to Sept. 7. The first week of football games will be Sept. 24-26, instead of the originally scheduled Aug. 27-29. Dates will remain unchanged for schools in Class 1A-4A.

According to the UIL, “The adjustments reflect the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state.” The plan provides a delay for schools in highly-populated metro areas, and provides schools in other areas an opportunity to start their season on schedule. 

“Acknowledging the situation is not always clear-cut and that COVID-19 affects every community differently, the plan also allows for local flexibility and encourages districts to plan for possible interruptions in order to complete district seasons,” the press release stated. “With the understanding that not all schools will be able to start at the same time, this plan allows for schools to make playing decisions at the local level, and the UIL will work directly with schools that have scheduling issues not addressed in this plan to allow them flexibility to complete as many contests as possible.”

The UIL’s plan also allows for fans to attend games and events with a maximum 50 percent capacity and a requirement that all spectators older than 10 must wear a face covering.

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”

Though beginning “as scheduled,” Livingston football needed to adjust that schedule, as TAPPS school Concordia Lutheran and Class 5A Dayton were the first two regular season matches slated for 2020. The planned road contests will now be replaced with two travel games, starting the season at Needville, then journeying to Palestine. Those road trips will be returned, as the Blue Jays and Wildcats will now come to Livingston for the 2021 season. 

“It’s crazy, like in January or February all over again with realignment,” Livingston Athletic Director Finis Vanover said. “It’s nice to finally have an answer — that’s the big deal. There’s been no information and all rumors with nothing solid. When they finally released the deal this morning, at least you can breathe a sigh of relief that we have an official date, official plan and here it is.

“They cut off one of our scrimmages and that hurts a little bit. I have no idea why they did that, so we just get the one. We’ll have three weeks of practice and then one scrimmage.”

The Lions will need to also search for a scrimmage, as both were canceled.

The Corrigan-Camden Bulldogs have undergone plenty of changes in the past few months, but the schedule will not be one of them. New Athletic Director Brett Ratliff said the announcement was a relief to know when games begin.

“Just from what I have been hearing and seeing what TAPPS brought out earlier last week, I really felt strongly that there was going to be some type of delay in some form or fashion,” Ratliff said. “I did not know that they were thinking about just delaying 5A and 6A. When you go and look at the numbers and looking at the statistics for the virus, it makes sense and I can understand why they are trying stagger it. I was a little surprised that they didn’t stall us as well, but I am pleasantly surprised.

“It is relief. We want to play and the kids want to play. They deserve to play and have the opportunity. We’re going to do the best job that we can as a coaching staff and as a school district to make sure we keep these kids safe and keep us safe. These kids need this, not only just to play the sport, but for the social interaction and the lessons that they are going to learn for life.”