Six weeks into the season, the Lufkin Panthers have yet to put their first loss on the board. They battled to an 8-0-2 mark in non-district and have gone 3-0-1 through four district games.
Even that one tie was closer to a win due to the team outlasting Nacogdoches in a shootout.
In most districts, Lufkin might be coasting to a title. In the rugged 16-5A, a loss tonight could send the Panthers all the way down to fourth place.
“At this point of the season, you’re mainly looking for consistency,” Lufkin head coach David McPherson said. “It’s usually going to take a full 80 minutes against this type of competition. The team we’re playing (tonight) definitely isn’t any exception to that.”
McPherson was referring to the Whitehouse Wildcats, a team that shares first place with the Panthers. Whitehouse has taken a nearly identical path to that record with the only blemish also being a tie against Nacogdoches. Like Lufkin, the Wildcats beat Nacogdoches in a shootout.
Whitehouse (11-1-2) has only one loss on the season, a defeat against Palestine on Jan. 9. The Wildcats have eight wins and two ties since that setback.
Lufkin and Whitehouse each enter tonight’s game with 11 points in the district’s system, which gives three points for a regulation win, two for a shootout win and one for a shootout loss.
They have company near the top with both John Tyler and Jacksonville checking in with nine points.
“Everything is still really tight in the district race so every point you can get is huge,” McPherson said. “Whitehouse is bringing a very good team to town. We have to adjust to whatever they’re going to throw at us.”
Lufkin has been almost unstoppable on the offensive side of the ball, due in large part to the play of Luis Flores. He started the season with 10 goals in 10 non-district games.
When things usually tighten up in district, he has been even better, scoring 10 goals in just four 16-5A games for a total of 20.
His latest performance may be his best one. On Tuesday night, Lufkin faced a 2-0 halftime deficit against Hallsville.
Flores responded with four goals in a 20-minute span as the Panthers turned the tables for a two-score win.
“We’ve said it all along that being able to score multiple goals lets you relax a little and move around more freely,” McPherson said. “With that being said, the goal for the defense is to get a shutout every game. We haven’t done that the last few games.”
Tonight’s game will be played at Jase Magers Soccer Field if field conditions are dry enough. Otherwise the game will be played on John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
Lady Panthers soaring in district — On the girls’ side, Lufkin has hit its stride at the perfect time. After struggling through much of district, the Lady Panthers have raced out to a 4-0 mark in 16-5A.
Defense has been the key with keeper Mia Lila and the Lady Panthers allowing one goal in the last four games, all wins.
In a 1-0 win over Hallsville on Tuesday, Idalia Hernandez scored the lone Lufkin goal.
Lufkin is currently at the top of the district with a full game lead on the closest competition.
The Lady Panthers will try to continue that momentum tonight when they travel to Whitehouse. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.