Sometimes in football, you need your team to mount a last-minute drive to score for the win. Sometimes you need your defense to stop that last-minute drive. That’s exactly what Lake Ridge faced Saturday night at AT&T Stadium in its thrilling 56-53 5A Division I state quarterfinal victory against Longview.
With the team that eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs a year ago sitting at the Lake Ridge 19-yard line with a fresh set of downs and less than a minute to play, it was time for the defense to make a season-defining stand. Longview threw three incomplete passes before missing a 36-yard field goal attempt with six seconds left that would have forced the game into overtime.
“We just told each other to man up,” senior linebacker Jack Lechman said. “You’ve got to get it done when it comes down to it. And we did.”
Lechman’s name was called repeatedly Saturday night as the Lobos’ run-heavy offense attempted to pound away at the Eagles’ defense.
“They had size, they had speed. We just fought it out,” he said afterward. “[My teammates] played their hearts out; they’re my brothers.”
Not calling a timeout to “ice” the kicker was just one of many calculated risks head coach Kirk Thor and his team took Saturday night.
“I felt like if we had called a timeout we would have settled them down a little bit and let them gather the troops,” Thor said. “They’re running against the clock and the [play] clock is running and they’re trying to get stuff on in a hurry, so I felt like the pressure was on them to try to get the kick off. We wanted to just let them go and get lined up in a hurry.”
The kick sailed wide left and Lake Ridge needed only one snap from victory formation to end the game.
Several times the defense was forced to defend a short field because Lake Ridge attempted a number of onside kicks. That, too, was one of the calculated risks.
“Our game plan, since we were playing a team that likes to ball control you, was to cut the clock away from them,” Thor explained. “If you kick it deep all the time, they drive and take more minutes off the clock. Our onside kick purpose was trying to get it, but more than that to shorten the field for them to maximize time for our offense.”
And more importantly for the defense, to reduce the number of snaps they were playing in case they needed to come up big in the fourth quarter – which they did.
“In the second half we started kicking it deep and let them try to go a long way when they got tired,” Thor added. “Our defense made the stops when they had to.”
Guys on the offense will tell you they never doubted.
“I knew our defense would come through for us,” quarterback Jett Duffy said. “I knew they would do what it takes. Our defense is a great one and they’ve got heart just like the offense. We’re a team, a family. And I knew my family would come through.”
The defense’s next challenge is nothing less than the two-time defending 5A state champion Aledo Bearcats, which have won five titles in the past six years. It’s the young upstarts versus the established powerhouse.
“They’re a really good football team that has won a lot of championships,” Thor said. “They’ve got a lot of tradition. We’re just brand new puppies at four years old trying to figure out how this works. They’re the model for a lot of people as far as winning. So our kids are going to take it one game at a time and we’ve got to practice and get better.”
“We’ve got have a great week of practice,” Lechman added. “We’ll have to step it up again.”