One of the most storied high school rivalries in the state of Texas will be renewed tonight at Dragon Stadium when the Lufkin Panthers square off with the Nacogdoches Dragons in a non-district matchup.
The contest will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and be aired live on KTBQ Radio (107.7-FM).
There are have been close games and one-sided ones in this rivalry between two schools approximately 20 miles apart in East Texas. Although Lufkin holds a 72-23-6 series lead entering tonight’s 102nd meeting, this one could be a dandy, featuring a pair of teams that are 0-1 on the season and looking for something to prove.
The Panthers enter the contest ranked No. 8 in Class 5A DI and are coming off a 24-21 setback at the hands of No. 4-ranked (Class 6A) Longview last week. The Dragons fought back a week ago and took a 14-10 lead over preseason No. 16-ranked (4A DI) Kilgore with less than two minutes remaining, but dropped a 17-14 decision when the Bulldogs scored a late touchdown with 1:27 on the clock.
Lufkin has won the last four meetings between the schools, but the Dragons won in 2013 (28-24) and 2014 (38-35).
“There were a lot of good things that came out when we looked at (the Kilgore game) on film,” Nacogdoches first-year head coach Darren Allman. “We definitely made some improvement on defense last week (over the Jasper scrimmage the prior week). There were some great efforts, which is always great to see.
“We had Reid Boyett starting at safety for the first time. He’s not had a ton of work there in fall camp, but only crossover time because he’s a quarterback and works mostly there. He played really well considering how much work he’s had.”
In the loss to Kilgore, Nacogdoches only allowed 224 total yards, with 119 coming on the ground and 105 through the air.
Offensively, the Dragons struggled in the first half, especially on the ground, and only finished with 70 yards rushing on 29 running plays. NHS senior quarterback Jake Smith completed 9-of-18 throws for 139 yards, a touchdowns and two picks.
Five different Nacogdoches players caught passes, with Nazavian Floyd leading the way with two catches for 56 yards. Jamarion Sanders hauled in two for 32 yards, including a key 28-yard scoring toss on the Dragons’ opening drive to give them an early 7-0 lead. Smith evaded the rush and used almost a jump pass to get the ball to Sanders, who went down the sideline and into the endzone.
“Jake had great effort, creating space and getting away from the rush, especially on the throw to Jamarion,” Allman added. “There were a lot of individual things we saw improvement on overall. The fact that they kept playing and kept working says a lot for the team. And when you talk about how well we didn’t play (in the first half) and still had the lead with a little over a minute to go, gave it up and still had a chance to win with 30 seconds left shows the great effort.”
Lufkin recorded 347 yards in its loss to the defending Class 6A champions, being held to only 69 yards on the ground, but gaining 278 yards passing. Jordan Moore completed 13-of-25 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target was JaLynn Polk, who pulled in seven throws for 130 yards and a score. Caleb Berry had all of the yards on the ground for the Panthers, running for 69 yards on 17 carries.
The Panthers had trouble slowing down the Longview offense, which ran for 166 yards and passed for 187 more, tallying 453 yards on the night.
Allman says there will be some key matchups against Lufkin, with the Dragon receivers against the talented Lufkin secondary being one to watch. The battle in the trenches should be another.
“We’re hoping our experience on the offensive line and their inexperience on their defensive line bodes well for us,” the Dragon coach said. “But that doesn’t always work out that way.
“Their strengths are their linebacker and secondary on defense and our strengths, besides the offensive line, is our running backs and receivers. That’s going to be a great matchup to watch.”