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By Brian Besch
Livingston football has one game remaining in the regular season and it could be the biggest challenge yet. The Lumberton Raiders are 8-1 and 4-0 in district, with their only loss coming to a 9-0 St. Thomas Catholic program.
Lumberton has handily taken care of all other district opponents, with Vidor coming the closest in a 47-21 result. They have won district games by an average of 47-11 over the four contests.
“We will see the same thing that we saw last year, with the exception of one or two young sophomores they’ve got playing,” Livingston coach Finis Vanover said of the Raiders. “The rest of them have been there since the eighth grade. They are big and strong, and have won a district championship in track twice with good speed. They are not fancy at all. They just line up and take four or five deep shots down the sideline each half. The rest of the time, it is every kind of bubble screen, hitch screen, slip screen and the tailback has a read option thing on the inside. They are really good at it, and they have a big offensive line. They very much resemble the two teams that we played at the beginning of the year with Needville and Episcopal. They have really fine 7-on-7 receivers. We have seen some great receivers this year, including the kids from Silsbee and Episcopal. They can get up and get the ball, and get down field fast.”
Lumberton comes into the game with the district’s best offense. They averaged 446 yards per game, with 2,204 passing yards and 1,807 rushing yards. Livingston is second on that list, averaging 357 total yards per game.
“They are as perfectly balanced as you can be,” Vanover said. “They are a well-oiled machine. Nothing is a surprise, we just have to bring our best game. We did a great job last week in eliminating most of our mistakes. We can’t mishandle kicks and have the special teams problems that we have had. We missed an onside the other night to start the game off and we swiped at a punt that was going 50 miles per hour about four feet high and shouldn’t have touched it. We just keep throwing hurdles in front of ourselves that we have to jump over or go around.”
Players across the board will be much better than what Livingston saw versus Splendora, but it may have been the perfect matchup to experience an extremely similar scheme a week before. Livingston held the Wildcats to just 33 total yards Friday. Lion defensive backs played their best football of the season and will need a repeat performance if the team is to keep pace with the best air attack in 10-4A.
“The coaches are doing a super job with those guys,” Vanover said of his defensive backfield. “They are just grinding with repetition every day. They are working on body position, footwork, their hips and their eyes. We are being aggressive and playing the ball on every down. We are going to keep playing man pressure defense and we are getting better every week. They are going to get tested this week and we won’t be surprised if the first two or three plays of the game they go deep.
“We both know that we have to run the football. They know if they don’t stop us, it is going to be a long night for them too. We will throw off of (the run), and their (plan) is just the opposite.”
Junior quarterback Lucas Powell is the top passer in 10-4A. He has thrown for 2,183 yards, completing over 70% of his passes, with 35 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Trey Kersh is leading the district with 51 catches for 758 yards and 10 touchdowns. The only receiver in the district with more touchdowns (15) is teammate Brady Fuselier. Jaydon Ward, also a junior, has nearly 1,000 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Powell will also run the ball, with 418 yards on the season.
The Raider defense is also strong and second best statistically in the district. They have surrendered an average of 275 yards per game. They are led by Jared Morgan, Easton Stapleton, Broc Bonner, Carson Rea, Connor Smith, Kyle Marcantel and Brock Jackson. Jackson, a junior, already has several universities recruiting him to play at the next level. Smith, Marcantel and Bonner are all top three in passes defended, while Rea has three interceptions.
“Defensively, about three-quarters of the time they are in an even front. The other times, they are in a 3-4 defense, with two big outside linebackers who are fine players. Their two inside linebackers are really downhill, physical players. Every year they have played us, they have always been in an odd front.”
The game should provide a measuring stick of how far the team has come and what they can expect when the playoffs come the following week. There is a slight possibility of a three-way tie for third place in the district if Hargrave were to defeat Little Cypress-Mauriceville by more than 15 points Friday. If not, Livingston is in the postseason in fourth place. However, if the Lions were to win this week, none of that will matter.
“We know we had chances and opportunities and the desire to be playing for the championship this week, and we stubbed our toe. We still have everything in front of us. We know that it will either be Kilgore or Tyler Chapel Hill (in the opening round of the playoffs). There is no reason to be nervous or tense or tight. We just have to play fiercely and fast and smart and confident and just see what happens at the end.
“They (Lumberton) have been the pick all year, and rightfully so. What they are doing on that football field is a great job. They’ve got just about every one of those kids back next year. They’ve got a great thing going right now. Everybody’s chasing them and that’s where everybody wants to be.”