Not long ago, the Lufkin/Nacogdoches “rivalry” seemed merely like a formality. From 1978-2012, the Panthers lost on only two occasions, including 19 straight victories.
The 2013 and 2014 Dragons did their part to bring some fire back into the rivalry with back-to-back wins in Nacogdoches, but the Panthers have responded with four straight wins by an average of 19 points.
Most Lufkin fans would still say their real rivalry game came when the Lobos came to town last week. However any way fans look at it, Lufkin has kept it simple.
“It’s the next one on the list,” Lufkin head coach Todd Quick said. “That makes it a big one, especially when you’re coming off a loss. No matter who it is, we have to play better and finish the game strong.”
Last season was a runaway for the Panthers, who bounced back from an opening loss to Longview with a 45-7 victory. Lufkin is coming off a loss once again, although it will also be facing a Nacogdoches squad that also feels like it let one slip away.
The Dragons struggled to get anything going on offense until Camorian Thacker scored on a 14-yard run that gave them a 14-10 lead with 1:47 seconds remaining on the clock.
However, 20 second later, the Dragons gave up the winning score.
That spoiled the Nacogdoches debut of Darren Allman, who has recently served as a head coach at Odessa Permian and Austin Westlake. He most recently served as executive director of athletics at Southlake Carroll ISD.
He is taking over for Bobby Reyes, who led the Dragons to respectability in recent seasons.
“They’ve done a good job over there,” Quick said. “(Allman) has done a good job of using the players they have there.”
Nacogdoches’ offense is led by QB Jake Smith, who threw for 139 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions on 9-of-18 passing last week.
Zay Flood had a pair of catches for 56 yards last week, while Jatavious Deckard had three receptions for 21 yards.
“Their quarterback is their guy,” Quick said. “They’re going to run a spread offense and they’ve got a few receivers that are coming back. He can make things go for them.”
The Dragons ran into trouble in the ground game last week where they were held to 70 yards on 29 carries. Jamarion Sanders had 11 rushes for 30 yards and two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown. Thacker had 24 yards on six carries to go along with a 19-yard reception. Riley Birdwell has drawn offers from SFA and Northwestern State from his offensive line position.
“The key for us is controlling the run,” Quick said. “We need to maintain the line and they’ve got some big boys up front. We want to put them in a situation where they have to throw the ball.”
Nacogdoches’ defense was the top force in last week’s game as it held Kilgore 224 yards before giving up the late and decisive score.
Kilgore gained a total of 119 yards on the ground and 105 through the air.
Kaleb Douglass is the team’s top defensive lineman, while Glenn Young is the best playmaker from his linebacker position. Young was the District 9-5A DII Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
“(Young) is really active in the box and he’s an MVP and all-district type of guy,” Quick said. “We need to be able to attack them with the run and get their safeties to load the box. Whoever can control the line will win the game.”
Kickoff for tonight’s game is set for 7:30.