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PHOTO BY JO’HANNAH PROCTOR Livingston wide receiver Chris Washington (7) sprints past Vidor defenders on a catch-and-run 76-yard touchdown play in the Lions’ 21-7 victory against the Pirates Friday night in Livingston.
By Brian Besch
The Livingston Lions pushed their winning streak to six games Friday, defeating district preseason favorite Vidor 21-7 in Lion Stadium.
Livingston (6-2,3-0) kept its first-place standing in District 10-4A Div. I with an incredible defensive effort and a few big plays from the offense and special teams.
“We played great, we really did,” Livingston coach Finis Vanover said. “I don't think a lot of people really, truly believed yet that we were capable of doing that and we matched them physically and got in the ring and slugged it out with them.
“They won three or four battles with their big boys and they hurt us with some pass rush in the second half, but we just kept missing the ball. We dropped a bunch of sure touchdown catches, but every one of them came back and redeemed themselves.”
For much of the night, the offense missed on opportunities for points, but would break a scoreless tie on the first play of the second quarter. Freshman running back Ja’Marri Green set the offense up with gains of seven, 29, and four yards to end the first period before punching it in from a yard out to put the Lions up, 7-0.
After a short Vidor (3-3, 1-2) punt, the Lions tried to convert a fourth-and-8. They were successful, as Livingston quarterback Damian Ruiz (8-20-1, 183, 2 TDs) rolled to his left and completed a pass to Julian Gardner. The junior standout turned upfield and scooted the 41 yards needed for the end zone.
Last week, Gardner caught five passes for 141 yards, two touchdowns and added an interception. He followed that Friday with three receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown, but also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery on defense. That made him responsible for ending three of the four Pirate drives in the second half.
Special teams played a large part in the game all night, and the final two scores of the night would occur in punting situations.
The Livingston offense was headed in the wrong direction on a drive with over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but held a 14-0 lead. On fourth-and-29 from their own 24-yard line, the Lions faked a punt. Ruiz stepped in to take the snap and tossed to Chris Washington. The senior receiver not only made the long journey to the sticks, but used his speed to outrun the Vidor defense for 76 yards and a touchdown.
“It was a different formation than we have used and we shifted the two running backs and didn't have the receivers there,” Vanover said of the fake punt. “We shifted them out of the backfield, so we knew they were going to vacate somebody. We told them, if it is there, we have to live with it. If it is not, get off a deep punt and get them off of us.”
It was a gutsy call on fourth and very long, with the game just a two-score difference. Without the first down, the final five minutes of the game could have provided some anxious moments.
“When you have talent and you believe in yourselves and you work all week to prepare for it, when the chance comes, you can't be afraid of the opportunity,” the coach said. “You just have to be man enough to live with the results.”
Down 21-0 with 30 seconds left in the game, Vidor blocked a Lion punt and corralled the loose ball in the end zone, giving the visiting team their only points on the night.
“On the punt, that was inexcusable. Especially when they think we may fake it again and we just watch the big boys go by and block it for a touchdown. That is unacceptable and we have to get that fixed.
“We gave away a shutout in district play against the preseason favorite. But (having the shut out for that long) is a tribute to how hard our kids played — how much they believe in what we are teaching.”
The Lions have clinched a spot in the postseason with their third district win. They will host Little Cypress-Mauriceville in the final home game Friday. A win there could set up a match of district unbeatens at Huffman, when the Lions face Hargrave to end the regular season.