With Longview in town for the season opener, the Lufkin Panthers knew anything less than a total team effort would lead them to their fourth straight loss against their biggest rivals. The Panthers responded by putting their best foot forward. Led by a bevy of playmakers in all three phases of the game, Lufkin was able to withstand the Longview attack on its way to an opening night win.
“It’s all about the kids making plays and we had quite a few of them do just that,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “There were areas we can be better at across the board, but we had guys showing they can step up when we need them.”
On offense, it was some of the usual suspects that made the biggest impact. Kordell Rodgers, in his second year as a starter, made the big plays down the stretch in the win. After a slow start, he finished with 184 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-19 passing. He also ran for a pair of scores in the second half. He was at his best in the second half when he made the pivotal plays throughout the final quarter.
“Kordell can extend plays and that really puts a strain on the defense,” Quick said. “He’s got the ability to find people on the run and that’s a weapon.”
He had plenty of weapons around him. Malik Jackson hauled in a 75-yard touchdown reception just before halftime, a play that seemed to spark the Panthers’ offense. Dhailon Phillips caught four passes for 67 yards and Javante Ellington had two receptions for 37 yards. Kahlil Brown finished with 81 yards and a pair of scores before leaving with an injury. In his absence, Isaiah Phillips came up with some big runs on the game-clinching drive.
“I think on both sides of the ball, we showed how we can react to adversity,” Quick said. “It’s easy to play when things are going the right way.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers used a team effort to come up with the big plays against a bigger Longview team. The Panthers got big-time contributions from March Thomas and Torrand Grisby, who earned the team’s weekly defensive honors.
“We were pretty undersized on the inside,” Quick said. “We did a good job of chasing the football to cut down on the number of big runs. The guys did a good job of filling in their gaps and realizing sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself and have faith in your teammate to make the play.”
The Panthers also came up with a big play in the special teams department. After Longview tied the game for the second time, Jackson came up with a spectacular 99-yard return on the last play of the third quarter. From there, Lufkin was able to dominate most of the final 12 minutes.
“Those are game changing types of plays,” Quick said. “I think he only had the one chance on a kickoff all night because they were putting it through the end zone, but he made the most of it.”