Defense steps up to keep Pack in playoff chase


It’s been quite a season for a Lufkin Panthers’ offense that scored at least 35 points in each of its first seven games. In that span, the Panthers averaged 47 points per contest.

However in a virtual must-win game in a trip to face the Oak Ridge War Eagles, that offense hit the wall against a defense that had most of the answers for the Panthers throughout the night. Fortunately for the Panthers, a defense that had struggled through much of the season stepped up to the plate to keep their playoff hopes alive and well.

“The offense just can’t click every time you go out there,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “When they don’t click, the defense has to step up for you. They went out there and got after it.”

In answering the bell for the Panthers, the Lufkin defense allowed a total of 320 yards. However, that didn’t really tell the story of the night.

When Oak Ridge started three third-quarter drives in Lufkin’s territory, the Panthers made sure the game didn’t get away from them.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Panthers’ defense kept Oak Ridge off track just in time for the offense to find its footing and put up 17 unanswered points to make sure the War Eagles didn’t pick up their first ever win over Lufkin.

“You’ve got to play the full four quarters,” Quick said. “When they faced some adversity, they stepped up. It was good to see them out there having fun.”

The biggest key for the Panthers may have been shown in the turnover category. In the first seven games of the season, the Panthers forced a total of seven turnovers.

On Friday night, the Panthers forced four turnovers.

Za’Courtney Deason, JaBrian Grimes, Demond McKevley and Jimarion Horace each had interceptions in the win.

“Winning the turnover battle is always big,” Quick said. “We needed guys to make plays, and they went out there and did it – even some of the guys that hadn’t made many plays during the season.”

While the Pack offense put up a season-low 31 points, it still did more than enough to get the win. Kordell Rodgers finished the night with 205 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions on 19-of-34 passing. His top target was Dhaillon Phillips, who had 10 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown.

Isaiah Phillips stepped in at running back in the fourth quarter and scored a touchdown in the absence of Kahlil Brown, who missed the game with an injury. He was also one of the biggest playmakers on the Lufkin defense.

Now the Panthers are hoping they can carry the momentum from that strong finish into Friday night’s game against Conroe. Lufkin can assure itself of a playoff spot with a pair of wins to finish the season.

With a little help, the Panthers could also clinch a postseason berth with a win over Conroe.

Kickoff for Friday night’s game is set for 7:30.

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