Defense stepping up for Panthers



Throughout the first two months of the season, it was a nearly unstoppable offense that led the Lufkin Panthers while the defense struggled to find its footing.

Now with the defense hitting its stride, the Panthers look like they could be a force as the playoffs open next week. Lufkin’s defense started its redemption by carrying the team to a 31-21 win over Oak Ridge in a game that was vital for the Panthers’ playoff hopes.

That was followed up by last week’s performance in which the Panthers held Conroe off the board for the first 38 minutes. The Tigers’ 21 points were somewhat misleading as the game had long been decided.

Although the pressure will go to the next level when the playoffs start, the Panthers like the direction the defense is headed.

“I’m pleased with the way the defense has responded,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “They’ve been getting off the field on third down and getting the ball back to our offense, which is a really big thing.”

The Panthers’ defense has been spurred by a switch to a 3-4 scheme after spending the first seven games in their traditional 4-3.

They instituted that change in the week prior to the Oak Ridge game and it paid immediate dividends. After being torched on the big play throughout the first seven games, Lufkin has been able to limit those big gainers.

“We looked at what we had available and thought that fit our personnel better,” Quick said. “We’re able to use the two inside linebackers and the two outside linebackers. In doing that, it also created some more depth in our defensive line because it helps you keep fresh bodies in there not only from drive to drive but from play to play.”

While that scheme has been a big key, Quick said the effort is what has made it work.

“We’ve got guys that are getting after it out there,” Quick said. “We’ve got guys making plays that weren’t making them earlier this season. It’s been fun to watch.”

While the defense has been a key, the offense also bounced back last week. A week after struggling throughout the game against Oak Ridge, the Panthers’ offense put up 24 points in the first 18 minutes before coasting to a 34-21 win over Conroe.

They did that despite Kahlil Brown missing the game and Dhaillon Phillips leaving with an injury.

“The offense clicked better than they had the week before,” Quick said. “They came out and got a quick score and went from there. I was proud of the way the guys started the game, which allowed us to get a bunch of guys in there for Senior Night.”

Now Lufkin will look to continue that success against a Montgomery team coming off a shutout loss to The Woodlands. However, the Bears are already locked into their playoff spot.

“On both sides of the ball, we need to keep it up,” Quick said.
Kickoff for Friday night’s game is set for 7:30.

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