By Will Johnson
BULLARD – The Lovelady Lions and Joaquin Rams met for the second time this season on Friday night, Nov. 11 and just like the first time the two teams met, the Lions emerged victorious. Unlike the first time however, this one as a little easier.
The first time the two teams met, it was in pre-district play, the game was held in Lovelady and the Lions won the contest 21-20. This game, however, was a little bit more important as the winner would advance to the area round of the 2016 UIL football playoffs and the season would be over for the loser of the contest.
The game was held at a neutral site (Bullard) and the outcome was not nearly as close as the Lions defeated the Rams, 33-16 to capture the Bi-District Championship by a final score of 33-16.
As the game got underway, the Lions opened with possession of the ball at their own 42. It appeared as if Lovelady wanted to establish their ground attack in the game’s opening minutes and they went to running back Tim Johnson early and often on their first possession.
Johnson was held to a minimal gain on first down, so Lovelady QB Lee Holsey went to the air and found Hunter Murray for a 10 yard pick up to move inside Ram territory. After the initial first down, the lions went back to Johnson who picked up three yards. On second down, Holsey’s pass attempt was incomplete but on third down, Joaquin was flagged for pass interference.
The penalty moved the ball to the 30 yard line of Joaquin and the Lions went back to the run. Johnson ripped of six, 10 and two yards to slip into the red zone at the Rams’ 12. A false start penalty pushed Lovelady back to the seven and set up a third and seven from the 17.
On the third down play, Holsey dropped back and saw Petey Little matched up with a smaller defender. He lofted one towards the end zone and Little was able to make a leaping catch for a 17 yard score. Devon Hammock knocked home the extra point and at the 8:23 mark of the first quarter, the Lions led 7-0.
Following the TD, Lovelady attempted an onside kick that appeared to backfire. The Rams fielded the ball at the 50 and received the benefit of a Lovelady personal foul to start their possession at the Lions’ 35.
That was as close to the end zone as they would get on their opening drive as Rams’ QB lost a yard on first down, threw an incompletion on second down and was sacked by Little for a 15 yard loss on third down, forcing a punt from where they originally fielded the ball.
After the punt Lovelady was pinned deep in their own end of the field. The Lions started at their own three yard Lion and once again, it was Johnson who did the heavy lifting for Lovelady. He sliced up the Rams’ defense with runs of nine, three, six and 27 yards to move the ball across midfield.
From there Holsey did the rest as he threw a perfect pass to Jay Thomas Robinson who had beaten his man in coverage for a 43 yard touchdown reception. Hammock’s extra point was good and with 4:58 remaining in the first quarter, the Lions had extended their lead to 14-0.
The Rams finally showed some life on offense the next time they had the ball. Joaquin moved into the Lovelady red zone, but on fourth and 12 from the 14 yard line, Wilkerson’s pass fell incomplete and the Rams turned the ball over on downs.
After taking possession, the Lions offense stalled for the first time and they were forced to punt. The Rams took possession at their own 45 and this time they were able to find the end zone. Joaquin running back Case Yates burst through the Lions defense for a 35 yard run and followed that up with a 14 yard scamper. Hunter Gates picked up five more for Joaquin to move inside the Lovelady 10 and from there, Hunter Harper plowed his way into the end zone from eight yards out. The PAT was blocked and while Will Sallee picked up the loose ball and worked his way all the way down inside the Rams’ 20 before he was tackled, it was all for naught.
With the score now 14-6, the Lions wasted little time in pushing their back to 14. After the kickoff, Lovelady started at their own 26 and took all of two plays before scoring again. Holsey picked up 37 yards on first down and Ethan Campbell finished the job as he went the remaining 37 yards for a touchdown on the very next play. Hammock’s extra point was good and with 8:11 remaining in the half, the Lions led by 21-6.
The Rams had a chance to cut into the lead on their next possession as they drove from their own 21 down to the Lions’ 25. A second down pass from Wilkerson bounced off his receiver’s hands and into Campbell’s for an interception at the 17.
Lovelady went back to the ground as Johnson picked up three on first down. After a false start penalty, Holsey found Hammock for 12 yards and a first down. Johnson picked eight and 25 back-to-back runs. Holsey and Hammock connected twice more on the drive as Hammock hauled in a 10 yarder and an 11 yarder from Holsey to move inside the 15. Campbell finished things off as he galloped into the end zone from 12 yards out. The extra point was no good but with 27 seconds remaining in the half Lovelady had pushed the score to 27-6.
The Rams started the second half with the ball and tried to establish a ground game of their own. Joaquin moved into Lovelady territory and got as far the Lions 35 before the Lions defense stiffened. An incomplete pass was followed by consecutive three yard losses by Yates and on four and six, the Rams picked one and gave the ball back to Lovelady.
It didn’t take the Lions long to get back in the scoring column on their first possession of the second half. After doing the majority of the work for Lovelady on the ground, Johnson finally found the end zone for a touchdown. He broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and outran the Joaquin defense for a 59 yard for a score. The PAT was no good but Lovelady now led by a score of 33-6.
To their credit, the Rams would not quit. Once again they drove deep into Lovelady territory but the Lions defense stiffened once again and forced the Rams to turn the ball over on downs inside the 10. This time, however, it was the Joaquin defense that rose to challenge.
The Lions lost two yards on first down and Holsey’s pass fell incomplete on second. Faced with a third and long situation, Holsey dropped back into his own end zone to throw. The Joaquin coaching staff dialed up a safety blitz and Yates came through the line untouched and blind-sided Holsey for a safety and two points to make the score 33-8.
As the third quarter neared the end, the Lions were driving once again but turned the ball over on downs at the Joaquin four yard line. On the very next play, Yates found a seam in the defense and went 96 yards for a score. The try for two was good and as the third quarter came to an end the score was 33-16 in favor of Lovelady.
Neither the Lions nor the Rams were able to score in the fourth quarter as Lovelady’s defense repelled everything Joaquin threw at them while the offense milked the clock. As the seconds ticked away in Joaquin’s season, the Lions went into a victory formation and walked off the field with the 33-16 victory and the Bi-District Championship.
The Lovelady Lions will be in Bullard once again next week as they take on the Union Grove Lions in the Area Round of the playoffs. The game is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 18 with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org