By Brian Besch
Improvement was made Friday over the previous week, but Lion football is still falling short of their goal. At 0-2, they will look to turn things around at home versus Palestine.
“We made unbelievable strides in our physical performance. The mentality was there and we didn’t fold the tent,” Livingston coach Finis Vanover said of the 33-28 game at Needville. “We were that close, and we knew it. I didn’t hear a negative word. That was a big step for us. You don’t want to give up explosive plays on defense when they go for 60, and we have to protect the ball.
“We are going to be fine. I am still excited and positive, and I’m not just trying to be ignorantly positive. I’m not blowing any smoke up anyone’s tail. If we were in trouble, I would say so. We played excellent the other night except for turnovers. I understand that’s part of it, but everything else was darn good.”
Through two games, the Lions have started slow. It took until the third quarter for Livingston to show life versus Episcopal. Last week, the team spotted Needville 20 points and — much like the Royal Brigade Band for a road game — didn’t show up until midway through the second quarter.
Vanover said the staff has been working with to establish a consistency on the initial drive. They have attempted to focus the team on the importance of starting early. Through two scrimmages, the Lions showed the ability to grab a quick lead. Yet, that has had no lasting impact on the games that matter.
The Wildcats of Palestine are the next hurdle, and they are also without a win in two contests.
“Their philosophy is pretty close to the same as ours. They love to run their tailback and their halfbacks on the counter just like we do,” Vanover said. “They are in the same position that we are – a wounded bear. They have a great history and background and love to play the sport. They have a great coaching staff that has been there forever, and they know their program. The expectations there are always high, so that is the kind of folks you want to play. We have a great non-district schedule, and we have to take advantage of it and use it as a learning tool.”
If Livingston can limit turnovers and opposing explosive plays, the coaching staff feels as though it will compete each week of the season.
“I really like our odds and ability to get this thing rolling. This is where we turned it around last year and this is where we turned it around in 2020. It is time we did the same thing.
“They are very athletic in places, just like they always have been. They have two to three very capable running backs. Their quarterback is athletic and their backs are as well. They’ve got some athletic kids at wideout that they’re going to try to throw some deep throws to. They will also throw some screen passes.”
Scoring hasn’t been much of an issue. The ‘Cats still employ a Slot-T offense that will run on most downs, only to catch the defense sleeping with the pass. Through two losses, they have averaged 30 points per game. If both coaches have their way, it could be a quick game with few passes put in the air.
The ability to hold the opponents has been the trouble for Palestine. Nacogdoches defeated the Wildcats 40-36, and a week later, Jasper won 46-24.
“Defensively, it is identical to what we saw last week. Their linebackers are very good athletically, and they have secondary kids who can cover and jump. (The defense) is a combination of a split front, with two tackles that they will shade and move a little bit, and two linebackers that will adjust behind those two guys. Then, when you look up, they are in a 3-4 with two inside linebackers. We handled that well and our guys did a great job (last week). We averaged over five yards per carry.”
The Lions will not see another road game until the middle of October, with only two away dates remaining in the regular season. If Livingston is to reverse its fortunes, it will be done in front of the home fans.
“It is six weeks from now until we travel again. You can’t ask for a better deal than that.”