A season opener can be a tricky proposition for any football team. Adding in the fact that the Lufkin Panthers’ season opener was against a traditional powerhouse that doubles as their biggest rival in a road game can make it downright scary.
With that in mind, a mostly young Lufkin team showed it wasn’t scared of an early-season test even after giving up a 97-yard kickoff return to the Longview Lobos on the opening play of the season.
The Panthers spent most of the first half matching the Lobos hit for hit in what was a defensive battle. However in the end, Longview proved to be just a little too physical while wearing down the Pack and pulling away in the final 18 minutes on its way to a 35-16 decision.
Even in the loss, Lufkin could find some positives, although there are no moral victories, especially against the Lobos.
“You don’t know how you’re going to react until you get punched in the mouth,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick warned a few days before the game. “That’s why we play teams like this. If you don’t play teams that are going to challenge you, you don’t know how you’re going to react when the game’s on the line.”
Here is a look back at the Panthers in all three phases of Friday night’s opener.
Offense: With a new quarterback, running back and an unproven starting offensive line, the Panthers were sure to have some first-game kinks, and they showed those throughout much of the night.
Lufkin’s biggest highlight came on the opening drive after Longview had already sent its fans into a frenzy with an opening kickoff return for a touchdown.
In that drive, Lufkin went 62 plays on 10 yards in a drive that took 3:12 off the clock. That was punctuated by a 24-yard touchdown run from Isaiah Phillips.
That proved to be Lufkin’s only touchdown drive until the game had long been decided.
With Longview electing to pressure Kewone Thomas throughout the first half, Lufkin went to the ground at the beginning of the second half, running on 15 plays during an 18-play drive.
However, Lufkin eventually settled for a field goal, and Longview seized control from there on the way to taking control of the contest.
The Panthers got a big night from Phillips on the ground as he ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
Thomas finished his first varsity start with 156 yards on 16-of-33 passing.
However, Lufkin was hurt both by dropped passes and a lack of pass protection when Longview focused on rushing the passer.
Defense: When Longview went away from its usual power ground game and elected to try to move the ball through the air in the early going, the Lufkin secondary was up to the challenge.
That led to a frustrating quarter and a half for the Lobos, who didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the game’s first 22 minutes.
But when Longview finally turned to its ground game, Lufkin never had an answer with the Lobos eventually running for 242 yards for an average of more than eight yards per carry.
The Lobos also scored touchdowns on three straight drives in turning a 7-7 game into a 28-10 runaway after three quarters.
The Panthers’ secondary held Longview to a total of 76 yards on 16 pass attempts.
Special teams: Lufkin gave up the big play in the early going when Keilyn Williams returned the opening kick 97 yards, but Lufkin was able to limit the big plays from there.
Rodrigo Molina showed his experience by connecting on a 19-yard field goal and making the only extra point he attempted to go along with a 34.5 yard average on two punt attempts.
The Panthers also had some big plays in the return game, although they were never able to break the big one.
Lufkin will be back in action on Friday night when it hosts Nacogdoches in the home opener.