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Lions bow to Knights

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082822 lions fb oneLivingston senior running back Connor Starr stretches for additional yards in Friday’s loss to Episcopal. Courtesy photosBy Brian Besch
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The Livingston Lions sputtered on offense and could not prevent the big play on defense, taking a 42-7 season-opening loss to Bellaire Episcopal Friday at Lion Stadium.

A Lion defense that returns many starters in the front seven, showed just how green they are in the secondary, as Knight quarterback Karson Gordon put on a show. While the Livingston defensive line and linebackers pressured the junior star, he still found ways to make plays.

Gordon had touchdown runs of 81 and 77 yards, while 13-for-21 in the air for 278 yards and four scoring strikes. Jackson Chavis led receivers with six catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Breylan Thompson also had six grabs for 104 yards.

“The quarterback and receivers were about like what we faced in the scrimmages and we couldn’t do anything about it,” Livingston coach Finis Vanover said. “Their receivers are super, they are well coached and they are drilled — playing in every 7-on-7 tournament in America. I can’t say enough good things about them. You have to line up and beat teams like that. To be able to do it, you have to get in there and slug it out with them.”

Down 14-0, the Lions drove 46 yards down to the Episcopal 8-yard line. On fourth down, a quick slant to Chevy Peters was dropped. Gaining possession again, the Knights took three plays to go 92 yards in just 41 seconds for a score.
“I wanted (their offense) to sit over there and watch us (from the sidelines) in that first quarter,” Vanover said. “We got the drive down there and had four possessions in the first half inside their 20 that we should have scored on — something. We found a way to just shoot ourselves in the foot. You can’t have missed opportunities against something that high powered.

“We’ve got to find our identity and who we are. Some of them aren’t ready. They thought they were, and they love the fact that they’ve got on those varsity silks. They got to go to the pep rally and have their names on the list for the travel squad. They forgot that there is a dogfight out here. Those guys (Episcopal) don’t care who is on the list.”

Vanover said Episcopal coach Steve Leisz told him the 2022 team is the best he’s had. He said that seven years ago, they were probably the best private school team in the country, but lost six key players to injury before the fifth game. This year’s team is thought to be better.

For Livingston, aJakob St. Martin had 12 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown. He was 11-for-24 in the air for 101 yards and an interception. Nine different Lion receivers caught a pass.

082822 lion fb twoSophomore Jerren James ran for 44 yards, leading Lion running backs for the night.Livingston quarterback Jacob St. Martin sets to throw a wide receiver screen. The senior threw for 101 yards, and ran for 53 and a touchdown.

Trailing 35-0, the Lions took an eight-play drive 83 yards in 5:54 of clock to finally enter the end zone. Some of the biggest offensive plays occurred on the march, with Jerren James (seven carries, 44 yards) collecting 18 on a run and St. Martin completing a 35-yard pass to Brayden Ethier. Points were earned when St. Martin rolled left on an option, keeping for six yards.

“St. Martin did OK, and did some things for us, and we found a couple of running backs,” Vanover said. “I am a little disappointed in some of the guys who felt they were a little too bumped up to play anymore. I don’t like that we got beat like that on the scoreboard, but (Episcopal) had a lot to do with that. We had a lot to do with taking ourselves out and saying that we can’t go anymore. That is concerning. I haven’t had that out here in four years. We’ve got some things to address. Folks may not like me saying that, but we have to get busy. We weren’t ready to play a team of that caliber.”

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Using a broom at home

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082522 lady lions vbKirbie Evans sets for a teammate. N’Ziya Washington gets up for the spike. Photos by Brian Besch

By Brian Besch
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Lady Lion volleyball delivered a sweep at home in Tuesday’s spike action over the Lady Eagles from Woodville 25-14, 25-18 and 25-19.

Livingston led 6-0 in the first set, yet allowed Woodville to remain in the contest for a bit. The second was competitive throughout with several long volleys.

The final set was tied 6-6 when the Eagles went on a run. They led 15-8 at one point, before surrendering a 13-2 sequence from the Lady Lions.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces and we are really young, so we are still working out some of the kinks this early in the season,” Woodville coach Amanda Howard said. “We will definitely improve. Our tournaments last week when we played some 5A and 6A schools, we played really well. I would love for them to get their skill level back to where it needs to be. I am trying to get us better for district, so that we are playing all of the tougher teams in the beginning of the season.”

Woodville has four wins so far this season, including a triumph over district foe Hemphill.

“I graduated seven seniors last year and five of them were starters. We are starting completely over. They look good, so we will get better. We played Huntington in our playoff game last year, so district is going to be competitive. Central Heights I’ve heard is the one to beat. I haven’t been able to see them play in person, but Huntington and Diboll both look really good.”

For the Lady Lions, Coach Heather Mosser has a work in progress. She is awaiting the return of a few players and has some playing a different position for that reason.

“We are working on being more competitive,” Mosser said. “I think that is a mindset that we need to continue to develop. We’ve played with some pretty good teams. We haven’t beaten them, but we have played with them. When we play teams that we should beat, we play down to that level. That is a mindset that I am frustrated with.

“Our starting middle hasn’t played at all and was out before we even started the season. Braylee Garrett should be back next week. That should change our dynamic up a little bit – I hope for the better – because I have some people that are playing out of position. It is pretty evident at times.”

Mosser referenced a competitive district when talking of the work early in the season. She does not believe her team is currently at the level necessary to compete.

“Anybody that we play this year is going to be very challenging. It is not going to be an easy road. That is good and bad. It is good for us to know that we have to compete at that level. Kirbie Evans is really leading on the court and hustling her butt off. I have her playing as a setter, because if I take her off the court, it falls apart a bit. That is big for her, because she was not always a go-to player, especially last year. I feel like this year she has really stepped it up.

The coach also praised the talents of N’Ziya Washington, who she called “a force” in the middle.

“We are just working on her volleyball technique. She is super athletic, but we just have to get her to where she is more volleyball-minded. I think that is the majority of my team. We have athletes out here, they are just not super volleyball-minded. Bailey Yantes and Ava Hartsell are both my left side. They are on when they are on. When they are off, we really struggle. I am looking for more consistency, but it is early in the season.” 

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Anticipated season kicks off in Buna

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082522 bulldog game advance

By Albert Trevino
Enterprise staff

This season’s veteran-stacked Bulldog varsity squad is looking to reestablish Corrigan as a powerhouse versus a new set of competition, starting with non-district opponent Buna this Friday.

At Tuesday’s evening practice, no loud music was needed to pump up the Bulldog players while running simple pass sets against each other, fighting hard for every catch or interception.

“The majority of them played together as sophomores on varsity when we were just getting started. Obviously, we took our lumps and we started to get a lot better last year,” said Bulldog head coach Brett Ratliff. “Now, these kids are actually getting an opportunity to go at it as seniors. They are very excited about that and you can even see that in the way we practice. I think they are fired up about having an opportunity to be a special team here.”

Week one will be on the road against the Buna Cougars, one of several unfamiliar teams this year to Corrigan in recent history.

Under the direction of second-year head coach Gary Kinne, the Cougars finished last season with a 2-4 record in district and overall a 2-9 record for 2021.Buna did manage to make it to an opening playoff round against Diboll, but were eliminated in a 56-0 shutout.

The Cougars’ top offensive weapon will be junior running back Jacob Johnson, according to Ratliff.

“[Johnson] will be one of the better running backs we will play all year. If we stop him, we have a chance to be successful.” Ratliff said.
The Bulldogs should have the play calling advantage, as Ratliff and defensive coordinator Amaro Villareal have two years under their belts installing systems with the current set of their seniors.

“I think our kids are understanding a lot more of what we expect and the tempo that we want to play at, plus the aggression that we want.” Ratliff said. “I think our play polishes a lot better. We are way ahead of where we were the past two years.”

Quarterback Christian Guzman is back healthy to start Friday after a long offseason recovery from a back injury that put him out the latter part of the last season.

“[Guzman] knows what he has to do and is a workman. Yes, that injury definitely hurt his heart a bit, but he busted his butt with rehab and doing everything the doctors told him,” said Ratliff. “He will be ready, but we also have a great group of athletes and several options at quarterback to come in and help him at times, because he is going to play a lot of defense for us too.”

Ratliff noted the success his option offense had last season rotating players in different sets and plans to continue that working formula starting opening week.

“[Offensively,] we are going to start right back off just like it’s week one by keeping it as simplistic as we can and be really good at what we do.” Ratliff said. “I think we are at that point now. By district, you will see a couple of different things from us. But, we are [still] going to be that hard-nosed football team and be successful at what we can do.”

Kickoff for Friday’s game is set for 7:30 p.m. at Buna’s Cougar Stadium.

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Friday to answer questions, begin 2022

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082522 lion game advance

By Brian Besch
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The 2022 Livingston Lions take the first steps that matter Friday, when Bellaire Episcopal travels to Polk County. There are many unknowns as the season kicks off, like a new Lion offense and several players getting their first varsity snaps. Episcopal is also a bit of an unknown.

Weather has much to do with the questions. Livingston had both of their scrimmages cut short due to lightning, and Episcopal was not able to take part in a second scrimmage.

“We have a general idea about them, just like they do about us,” Lion coach Finis Vanover said. “We both have a little film on each other and we both have each other’s Vidor game from last year. We have that and about 20 plays of scrimmage film from this year. It will truly be a big-play performance on the field, with who can break something. Special teams is really going to weigh into it.

“We have some of what they played against Sealy (in a scrimmage). That is a good, quality program with some of the same type of athletes that we have. The preparation for them had to be very similar. They are a spread, true to the book, just like we faced last week. Needville (the Lions’ second game) comes up the same way, unless they just totally changed.”

The coach was happy to get the small amount of plays that he did last week against Hardin-Jefferson. The Hawks are a spread team, just as many on the schedule will run. Episcopal on the other hand, was not able to get off the bus last week.

“They’ve got a great quarterback that transferred in from the Fort Bend schools,” Vanover said. “That is what you get with the larger, more established parochial schools in the Greater Houston area. They do a good job of recruiting and have open enrollment. He is a fine quarterback and a tall, rangy kid. They will have some big plays with their offense with picks and rolls, and playing basketball on grass.”

Facing a similar offense in the scrimmage, the coach was pleased with his defense’s performance on all but a few plays. Missed assignments and missed tackles were responsible for large gainers. Tackling in the secondary will be key, as the Lions hope to keep the offense in front of them and having to earn points on long drives.

In the run game, expect to see plenty of zone read option from the Knights, while wide receiver screens and bubble screens will be an extension of that.
“They have a defensive end that is really noticeable,” the coach said, shifting to defense. “He is a good player as a rush end that likes to come after you. They have a sound secondary, and are identical to what we saw last week on the front. It is an odd-man front with a 50-type defense. We’ll see a nose tackle. Their tackles are more like ends in our scheme and their defensive ends are like our linebackers, where one of them is rushing and the other is in coverage. They are always going to stay in a cover four with two safeties and two corners. They will drop some people, doing some underneath stuff. They have very good footwork and technique in the secondary.”

Coach Steve Leisz has been at the program since 2007. The past two years have not been the best, going 5-10 in shortened seasons due to Covid. However, the Knights were a combined 64-17-1 over an impressive eight-year stretch before.

For Livingston, a ball control offense looking to grind out yards on the ground will likely be key for a passing game that is not established.
Jakob St. Martin will start at quarterback and provides a running threat himself. The Lions have no shortage of running backs, at around eight and able to shuttle a new one each down, if they so desired.

“If there’s anyone who deserves a chance to move into a limelight spot, it’s Jakob St. Martin. For two years, he’s been the quintessential understudy. He played receiver and caught a few balls and did a little mop up duty (at quarterback), but every time he did, something special happened. He came in as quarterback and made two or three unbelievable runs, dipping and darting.”

The coach said he couldn’t be more happy or proud or a player that he is of St. Martin. He praised the quarterback’s work ethic over the spring and offseason to ready himself for Friday.

Similarly, the staff feels good about its offensive line. There are also around eight in that position group ready to go for the first game. Most all players will be expected to go both ways, but Livingston has hopes that many of the big guys on offense can play exclusively on that side of the ball.
Look for a freshman or two to play varsity games immediately. There is some need on the field, but Vanover said he has some ninth graders that will be too talented to keep off the roster. The same will be the case for several sophomores. Many of the underclassmen have challenged juniors and seniors for starting roles and Vanover expects that to continue through the non-district schedule.

The Lion secondary is young and will be tested early in the first two non-district games, with Episcopal and Needville both running a spread concept. While maybe not ideal, the coach likes the opportunity for his inexperienced defensive backs to see plenty of action in preparation for the remainder of the season.

“I think it is what we need. It is the only way we are going to get better. They have got to get after it. We can’t hide them; we are a man-to-man team. They are not big or physical type guys or bone crushers when they tackle, but they need to get on a guy and hang on. They’ve got great feet, hips and leaping ability. That is why they are back there. I think it’ll be great preparation. I think we did really well against Hardin-Jefferson. They are quick learners, but we just can’t wait too long to learn. We have to exhibit our knowledge and not let them score three or four before they do.”

The Lions will begin to find answers on Friday. Those answers should indicate whether this year’s team more resembles the district champions of 2020 or the disappointment of missing the postseason in 2021.

“This is going to be a fun team to coach. There will be some frustrations and some growing pains. I may be cue ball bald by the end of the season, pulling what little hair I have out, but, they are fun and I wouldn’t trade them. We are really close and having a good time together, and they are fun to be around. They listen and do what is expected.”

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Lion cubs key to success in 2022

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082122 lion fb preview teamSee complete section of the 2022 Football Peview in the Aug. 21 issue.

By Brian Besch
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Dealing with success hasn’t been a big problem over the history of Livingston Lion football. When the 2021 season began, there were high expectations that never came to fruition.

The Lions followed their first district title in 57 years with a disappointing 1-4 district mark. They were competitive in the final two losses that knocked them from playoff contention, but struggled with an offense that only scored more than 15 points once in league play. Injuries and other factors were a hindrance for a group that was 4-1 in non-district, but the team is ready to put all of it in the rearview mirror.

With a new quarterback and key positions without varsity experience, Livingston could have a different look that relies on its ground game to set up the pass. There is talent in the offensive line and at running back, and Livingston head coach Finis Vanover appreciates a good rushing attack.

“Offensively, we have had a quarterback for three years,” Vanover said. “We’ve had an established bunch at receiver that we really didn’t have to reteach, we just kept adding and polishing. Without that trigger guy and those cats that you know what you have at receiver, we don’t know.

“We’ve got lots of open positions with a large senior class for us last year of 17. But, we turn around this year and we have 25. Those are good signs. A lot of those that left were a lot more than just 17, because a lot of them were two-way starters or filled in at three or four positions with the way we shuffle people in and out and use specialty roles. A kid like Julian Gardner was four positions. We either have to find another four-position guy or two guys that can do two things. We’ve got a good group returning and a lot of them had playing time of some nature and there were some starts involved. Right now, the best thing we have going is the competition for all the available spots. We’ve got some fun competition going, especially with our sophomores. We have a great sophomore class and they are really talented.”

The coach said 17 of his sophomores took part in the first varsity scrimmage versus Silsbee. The promising youth have even pushed some of the seniors for the opportunity to start.

“That is what competition is all about. It brings something out in everybody – good and bad. It is the first time with 104 kids that we are able to do that now. Even as long as those juniors and seniors have been with us, we’ve got a sophomore class that is blessed with natural talent and they have been with us three years now through junior high and the freshman team. They are going to figure into the formula, some from the very get-go and others possibly as the season progresses. We’ve got three or four freshmen that can do the same thing. Two for sure right now are probably running second levels. If the kid is talented enough, get your tickets, because you’re going to watch your son play.”

Vanover said his quarterback situation is a triumvirate of competitors with a senior, sophomore and freshman in contention. Jakob St. Martin has seen some limited time under center in varsity games. Vanover said he has put time into workouts and been a leader, earning respect of his teammates. Demorian Hill impressed coaches over the summer with his work, and move-in Tyler Soza is in Livingston from Canyon Lake. Soza’s father will be part of the coaching staff and Vanover bragged on the freshman, citing his 52-second 400 meters as an eighth grader.

Zach Williams was primed to be a back with plenty of carries in the 2021 season before breaking an ankle in the first scrimmage. Vanover says he has had an impressive training camp. Landon Leggett and Connor Starr will figure in as both fullbacks and big backs in short yardage situations. Caleb Cormier figures to play flanker, but could also line up in the backfield in certain packages. He is touted as one of the fastest at Livingston High. Sean Martin will be lined up similarly. Brayden Ethier will have comparable responsibilities to Starr and Leggett, but coaches love his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Jaron James is another of the sophomores that could line up at fullback or tailback.

“Our running backs, we have a bevy of them,” Vanover said. “We have a couple of returners and a couple of good ones in there, but that sophomore bunch is really figuring into the defensive back situation (where many of the running backs cross train). They are all multiple position guys and highly skilled.”

Chevy Peters, Cormier and Javean Gardner lead the wideouts, and the Lions will feature plenty of tight ends, with a few that have moved to the position. Reese Henderson adds to his duties at linebacker by playing on the end of the offensive line, as does Bradley Tullos, who slides down from a tackle spot. Rory Williams and Nick Smith should also see playing time at tight end.

On the offensive line, defensive star Zaylon Bogany will plug in at a guard spot and Bryce Stiegler will try to shake injuries to return as a starter. Xavier Mendiola and Jonathon McNeal will also open holes up front for the Lions.

“They are kind of the lead dogs in the thing, but we have a bunch of them that will get a ton of playing time as backups and as backup D-lineman. They are really accepting the challenge and getting a bond together. Cam Wright and Trey Atkinson and Eli Steagall are some others that we are looking to step up. We are going to try to keep eight in that group that don’t have to start both ways, except Bogany – he can play all night long. Stiegler can do the same thing.”

082122 lion fb preview twoHead coach Finis Vanover. Landon Leggett hopes to impact the offense and defense as a senior.Defensive coordinator Dalton Murray.

Much of the Livingston defense will be the same as it has in previous years under coordinator Dalton Murray. The Lions run a 4-2-5 base defense that plays a lot of man-to-man with a free safety roaming up top. When offensive coordinators develop any sort of comfort, Murray can change into several different packages that include a 6-1, 4-3, 3-4 and 40 front.

During the first scrimmage, Silsbee coaches commented on how hard the Lion defenders hit. Murray says that is by design.

“Our kids, they love tackling,” he said. “We hit hard and that is what we practice every day. You play like you practice, so if you practice timid and practice slow, you are going to play slow. We don’t play like that.”
Everything on the mean green defense this season will start on the defensive line. The front promises to be one of the better Livingston has seen, with experience and award winners sprinkled throughout.

“We have a three-year vet on there with Zaylon Bogany, who has been our starting nose tackle for three years,” Murray said. “He is one of the baddest ones in our district. We have several others on the line that have been through it, like Stiegler, who has played defensive line for three years. He is mainly an offensive lineman, but his junior year, he played more defensive line and was definitely a big help last year at defensive end. Nick Smith is at defensive end and Xavier Mendiola is down there at tackle. We also bring up some new guys from our JV squad that were quality there. Talon Atkinson and Jace Morris are coming up and going to be just fine with Brady Ganzer and Jacob Noonan. We have several to pick from and they do a good job.”

Murray said the defensive backs were his youngest group last year, but opponents didn’t start to figure that out until later in the season.

“This year, our focus has been to make that more solid. We have a lot more competition there this year, so it’s become a lot more productive. They are coming along and it is going to be good – a lot better than it was last year.”

Some of the returners include St. Martin, Gardner and Cormier. Murray is excited about the quick reaction time from Cormier, who is back from injury. Dylan Murphy is a junior and sophomores Deandre Walker, Sean Martin and Trenden Williams will be in the mix.

The coach said his defensive backfield train at both cornerback and safety, allowing for a breather at each position or in case injury occurs. St. Martin and Gardner are likely to get the first looks at free safety once the lights come on for Fridays.

“As the season goes on, I have to see who is the better read. If he can read the quarterback and the run game, and also get involved in the passing game, that will be the one I start.”
Leggett and Starr have been multiple-year starters for the Lions and should form a formidable second level again.

Starr was a first team all-district linebacker last year, while Leggett took honorable mention. At outside linebacker, Williams is fast and aggressive, while Henderson enters after playing defensive line last year. Murray says he has shed many pounds, gained some speed, but kept all the aggression of a defensive end. Trent Quinn and Caden Vickery return as contributors, as does JV standout Ethier. Jarius Randolph is a big-bodied linebacker, who Murray says has potential.

“We’ve got more linebackers this year than we have ever had. It is developing and getting where we want it, but so are the rest of our spots. We are coming along and everybody is getting it. Everybody understands what is supposed to be happening inside the coaching staff and in the players’ locker room. We are starting to get that buy in, but it is year five now and it is about time.

“The back end, when we won our district championship, our best players were our DBs. We graduated them and went through some growing pains, and now we have some in there who are seasoned, but we are throwing them into the fire. Last year, they got to get their taste of what it was like to play varsity football and they struggled a little bit. But, they have a year in them and they have handled it fair.

“With our interior, our defense alignment and our linebackers, I feel like we are picking up where we left off and a few that are better in certain spots. The DBs, I feel like we are already ahead of where we ended last year. I feel like this team has better potential to finish the year out better than we did last year.”

Expect to see even more blitzing from the defense as the coverage gets its feet under them. That is saying a lot for a team that likes to come after the quarterback. However, the coach says if his unit is operating as it should, it has the appearance of blitzing on most every down.

082122 lion fb preview threeThere is room for another few pictures on the wall of champions at DeWalt Field House.

“We can play with anybody,” Murray said. “There is a lot of parity in this district and no one is just head and shoulders above one another. It is going to be an interesting year to see how it all goes. Everybody has been in the district at least two years.”

Prognosticators have performed poorly the past few years when predicting the district’s final standings. The Lions have been on extreme ends of the spectrum the past three years, going from worst to first, then next to last.

“We are not browbeating them with it, but we are damn sure reminding them of it,” Vanover said of last season’s record. “We went from district champions to 1-4. That is a total collapse. We had a couple of guys that got hurt and the folks that were supposed to step up did not do it.

“Right now, Lumberton and Little Cypress are the lead dogs. There is no question about it. Little Cypress went to the state semifinals and they are legit. They have a lot of transfers and a lot of kids who are doing a good job. Lumberton is just loaded. They have numbers and they are so big. Everybody is chasing them.”
The head coach said he sees Livingston competing with Vidor, Huffman and Splendora for two playoff spots. He is intrigued by the transformation Livingston football will receive in 2022.

“I like this team. I feel like we have a chance of being good in a different way from what we have been,” Vanover said. “We’ve got to get a new face and a new personality and blend it in with a bunch of the old stuff. I think we are very capable. We are way ahead defensively, with as good of a defense as we have ever had in August.

“Every team is different in some form or fashion, but we didn’t have a lot of changes the past three years because it was a lot of the same kids. That is what I am so excited about right now. If there is any way possible I can keep the sophomore bunch as a group and not have to break them up on the JV, I will do it. I just don’t know if we can, because they are so much better than some of the juniors and seniors we’ve got out there. They are going to have to play. It is hard to say right now what the identity of the team is going to be. It is going to be a different style of team with a lot more running, motion and misdirection. We’ve got to go with what we’ve got.”

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