Coming into any season, the Lufkin Panthers’ set of goals always includes a district title. This year is no exception for a team that has started at 4-1 with the only loss coming against Louisiana powerhouse Parkway.
The Panthers know that the biggest obstacle in their way to a 2016 district title will come in the form of The Woodlands Highlanders, the seventh-ranked team in Class 6A.
The Woodlands has outscored its opponents by a total of 127-44. That includes a pair of wins over Katy and George Ranch, both teams that were state champions last season.
While it may seem like a daunting test, it’s one Lufkin seems prepared for.
“We know what they do and they know what we do,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “We know that we need to beat them if we want to win district. It’s going to be a physical game and we have to cut down on our mistakes.”
The Highlanders are headlined by a spectacular defense that has allowed an average of 11 points per game. Since giving up 20 points in a season-opening 23-20 win over Cy-Fair, the Highlanders have allowed a total of 24 points over the last three games.
The Woodlands gives up an average of 126 rushing yards and 116 passing yards per game. In addition, it has forced 10 turnovers through the first four games of the season.
Ethan Bonner leads District 12-6A with three interceptions.
“They’re really good on that side of the ball,” Quick said. “They were last year and they’ve got most of those guys back. They’re really good all the way across the defensive line. That lets the linebackers chase the ball and make tackles. In the secondary, they’re going to keep everything in front of them.”
While the defense has drawn plenty of attention, the offense has held up its end of the bargain by averaging 32 points per game.
The Woodlands features a balanced offense with QB Eric Schmid leading the way. He has thrown for 781 yards on 50-of-71 passing with 10 touchdowns and only one interception. Schmid is also a threat with his legs, running for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
His top target is Kesean Carter, who has 16 receptions for 336 yards and five touchdowns.
Dylan Casey (10 receptions, 155 yards, touchdown) and Chris Stewart (9 receptions, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns) are two of his other top targets.
On the ground, Jordan Talford is the team’s leading threat with 290 yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries.
“Their quarterback is the coach’s son and he has a good understanding of the game,” Quick said. “He has good legs and is going to make good decisions. They’ve got wide receivers that are big-time guys and a good running back. They’re good in all phases.”
With those lofty numbers, Lufkin knows it will have its hands full. However, it’s a challenge the Panthers are ready for.
“We’ve got to go out there and get through the first burst,” Quick said. “After that, we have to do what we do to go out there and get a win.”
Kickoff for Friday night’s game at Woodforest Bank Stadium is slated for 7:30.