This is what big games are made of.
There weren’t many rivalries that matched the games between The Woodlands Highlanders and the Lufkin Panthers between 2004 and 2013. When Lufkin joined the ranks of the Houston-area teams in 2004, the Panthers showed they were still the big dog in the district despite sporting enrollment figures that were nearly doubled by the Highlanders.
The first time Lufkin faced the Highlanders in 2004, a sick but determined Jorvorskie Lane was still too much for the Highlanders. Playing with a virus, the future college and NFL star was undeterred, running for 222 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries.
The Panthers needed every bit of that as they held on for a 35-28 win over the Highlanders before eventually advancing to the state semifinals for the third time in four years.
It was a game that showed Lufkin was still the team to beat, even after leaving an East Texas district for the Houston area. Lufkin entered that game as the No. 4 team in the state while The Woodlands was ranked 10th.
“I remember it was hot as fire at Moorhead Stadium,” Lufkin head coach and then defensive coordinator Todd Quick said. “Jorvorskie was battling the flu, and we just kept handing him the ball. It was a hard, physical game and we were fortunate to come out with that one.”
Since that meeting, the teams have met nine more times with Lufkin holding a 6-4 advantage in the series.
The last of those Lufkin wins came in 2011 when the Panthers took a 30-10 win in a game that was regionally televised. That game proved to be the 300th of legendary head coach John Outlaw’s career before he passed away just two months later.
“It was a huge game both for him and our kids,” Quick said. “It was close right there until the end, then we were able to pull away. It was just another one of the great battles between these teams.”
Those are just two of the more memorable games in a series that almost always decided the district champion. The Panthers won six of those 10 games, winning the outright district title on five of those occasions.
Lufkin also shared the district title with The Woodlands in 2008 when the Panthers took a 15-13 win over the Highlanders at Woodforest Bank Stadium.
The Highlanders won the district title in each of the four years it beat Lufkin in that span.
While the Panthers hold the overall advantage in the series, The Woodlands have the recent edge, beating Lufkin in four of the last five meetings. That came after Lufkin won the first five meetings in the series.
The lone Lufkin win in that span was the 2011 victory.
“We aren’t focused on that,” Quick said. “We’re just focused on this one because it’s the next one. We know it’s going to be packed on both sides. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, and it will be a big win for whoever gets it.”
With Lufkin spending the last two seasons in 5A, the rivalry was put on hold. Now the Panthers will look to turn the tide back in their favor when they square off on Friday night.
Lufkin vs. The Woodlands series
2004: Lufkin 35, The Woodlands 28
2005: Lufkin 42, The Woodlands 17
2006: Lufkin 31, The Woodlands 7
2007: Lufkin 18, The Woodlands 15
2008: Lufkin 15, The Woodlands 13
2009: The Woodlands 31, Lufkin 21
2010: The Woodlands 49, Lufkin 33
2011: Lufkin 30, The Woodlands 10
2012: The Woodlands 49, Lufkin 21
2013: The Woodlands 31, Lufkin 13