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ET Football: Lobos reflect on run to state semifinals

By Hayden Henry
Dec. 23, 2017 at 10:09 p.m.

Longview's sideline looks on during the Class 6A, Division II, Region II final against Lufkin on Dec. 9 at SFA's Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches.

Time and time again throughout Longview's 2017 football season, head coach John King pointed to something about his team that he couldn't quite explain.

There were a number of factors that played a part, much like the Lobos' season itself.

"The chemistry we had on this team, that 'it' factor," King said this past week after Longview's season concluded in the Class 6A, Division II semifinals. "I'm going to find a way to bottle 'it' up and sell it.

"It's a small work but there's a lot of things that play a role. You've got to have ability, love for the game, respect for your teammates, a little luck along the way, a belief and, most importantly, chemistry. Every one of those things led to our success. This team had 'it.'"

Longview's run back to the state semifinals featured a returning nucleus on defense that set the stage from the start, a new-look offense that overcame growing pains and injuries throughout, a stout and competitive district race that set up an underdog run throughout Region II and the 6A, DII postseason.

"A lot of people sold this team short," King said. "We may not have had the marquee names, the five-star recruits or whatever like some teams had but we had a great football team and one that played for one another every single snap and that's what mattered the most," King said. "When we went onto the field, it was an 11-man team, it wasn't a one man show.

"We had to play well together and our kids did that. I think when you do that, you respect one another, you have that love for something, and theirs was Lobo football, you have a chance at something special and making a run like we did."

Longview started the season 3-0 with wins over Lufkin, Marshall and South Oak Cliff. Then came District 11-6A, which got off to a rough start for the Lobos with a turnover-plagued road loss to Mesquite Horn.

"I'll remember that halftime in Mesquite," King said. "It could've gone one of two ways but they were so positive of one another at halftime.

"They knew that we stunk it up at halftime but we came out in the second half and made a run at them but just came up short. But the fight to try to get out of that hole was probably a turning point of our season in just how they rallied around one another and the pride that they played with."

Longview responded, winning the next six games in 11-6A to claim the top seed in Division II.

"We had to beat a lot of good teams," King said. "We knew our backs were against the wall after the Horn loss but we took care of business on the road against John Tyler and Rockwall.

"This district was just as we expected and all of those battles we had really helped us prepare for the playoffs. It was tough and being able to compete in that league gave us confidence and it tested us heading into the playoffs. They knew we were going to face good teams and knew we had already played some good teams. From there, it was let's line up and play."

The Lobos opened with a big win over Beaumont West Brook, a rematch from the previous year. That set up a showdown with high-flying Jesuit in which the Lobos left a number of offensive records shattered.

Then came Klein Collins, an undefeated power that many picked as state championship favorites.

"I don't think anyone gave us much of a chance to win and the kids proved a lot of people wrong again," King said.

All eyes then turned to East Texas as the Lobos met Lufkin in the Region II final, a billing that lived up the hype in a last-minute win for Longview.

"What a game," King said. "That was typical Longview vs. Lufkin in every single aspect. It came down to us making plays at the right time and we did."

Next up, the state's final four and another undefeated power in Waco Midway. After exchanging blows in a rain-soaked and cold Allen Eagle Stadium, Longview rallied from a 15-point hole with chances to advance to the title game before another last-minute heartbreaking and season-ending loss.

"Such a great effort against another great team in Midway," King said. "We had our chances to win it and just didn't make the plays at the right time to do it.

"Midway is a very good football teams and we didn't bow out to any slouch, I'll tell you that. We knew that if we were going to get beat, someone better bring their best to beat us and Midway was able to get out of there with a win.

"It stings, of course, and it will. Just a heartbreaker but that's football and that's life. You give it your all every second and see what happens and that's what this team did from the very start."

Here's one final look at the 14-2, state semifinalist Lobos:

DEFENSE

Coming into the season, it was the Lobo defense that was going to lead the way with a number of contributors back in every area.

"They led the charge," King said. "We felt like we would be better defensively and we definitely were.

"Our defensive line, the depth and rotation we had there, it started with those guys. The play we got from our linebackers improved each week and I thought our secondary was exceptional all year long."

Longview finished the season with 23 players recording a tackle for loss and 19 different players recording a sack.

"It wasn't the same guy every week," King said. "That stat sheet is full and there are guys on there that played a big role in helping whoever it was week to week turn in those numbers."

On the line, JC Blakemore led with 20 tackles for loss amd eight sacks, followed by 11 from Luther Williams and eight from D'Marjai Dearion to lead the upperclassmen.

Jalen Carr made the move to cornerback after the Horn game and finished with 10 interceptions to earn Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 11-6A. Kyle Johnson forced seven fumbles, had six tackles for loss and nine passes broken up. The duo combined for six of Longview's 10 blocked kicks on the season.

Roshodrick Harmon had three interceptions for the Lobos, who came away with 40 takeaways on the season overall.

The Lobo defense forced 109 negative plays on the season in a year that opponents had a 165 advantage in the snap count. On 21 turnovers from the Lobo offense, seven led to points and the defense recorded 35 stops inside the plus-40 side of the field, including 11 in the redzone.

"Our defense feeds off our defensive coordinator, Casey Pearce," King said. "His chilli gets got and theirs does too. He won't let them get down.

"They owned the role of having the offense's back. We put them in some bad spots at times but they responded in a great way. We were going to find a way. That's the mindset of our football team and particularly on defense."

OFFENSE

Longview finished the season with 6,002 total yards — 2,718 through the air and 3,284 on the ground — and 618 points scored.

And it took something from everyone to get that done with fourteen players recorded touchdowns overall on the season.

"We had to overcome some injuries and we had to do a lot of things this year," King said. "Sometimes it was smoke and mirrors but that's a testament to the coaching staff and unselfishness of those kids to be able to do what it took win a game."

With a quarterback spot up for grabs, losses to running backs, receivers and offensive lineman, a unit that saw eight different combinations used throughout the season, Longview settled in down the stretch.

"Early on it was a new lineup every week," King said. "Once we got settled in, I think our kids were very productive on offense. It was a different guy every week getting their named called."

A'Darius Carter made the move to wide receiver and had a do-it-all role for the Lobos. Carter finished with 20 total touchdowns on the season and had 12 catches for 286 yards and five touchdowns in the postseason.

"AC and Jordan Lawson, the whole situation at quarterback, it could have been bab but they didn't let it," King said. "The attitude that both of them had was exceptional. They were excellent leaders for us in the locker room, the practice field and the game field.

"Those two guys were flat-out leaders for us."

Tight end Jaylin Brown led in receiving with 31 catches for 638 yards and 13 touchdowns. He graduates 46 catches for 1,012 yards and 22 touchdowns in his two-year career with two records, both for career touchdown catches and single-season grabs, passing Malcolm Kelly for both.

"Going to miss that dude," King said. "Great blocker and very unselfish. I can't tell you how man catches or runs we've broken with that guy leading the way down the field."

Jaquan Edwards totaled 728 yards and nine rushing touchdowns on the year and fullback Paul Hutchins paved the way.

"Paul didn't touch the ball much but he was the battering ram leading the way," King said. "He was a huge part of our offense."

Chris Kessler, who signed with Texas State this past week, finished his senior season with 50 touchbacks, a 37-yard punt average with 10 inside the 20, and 10-of-19 on field goals with a long of 47 to go with six tackles.

MOVING FORWARD

Offensively, Keilyn Williams finished the season with 1,253 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns and 13 catches for 174 yards and a score. He started his junior season with a kickoff return touchdown against Lufkin and had a touchdown pass against Midway for 20 total.

Williams leads the way returning for the Lobo offense, which returns 5,194 total yard combined.

"Keiyln went into the playoffs at about 600 yards and we were on the verge of not having a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in a long time," King said. "We ran so well and so hard throughout the year and especially in the playoffs. He made something out of nothing a lot of the times too."

Longview will return several key spots on offense, including Williams and Jessie Anderson, who missed a bulk of his junior year due to injury in the backfield.

Kamden Perry, who had 25 of his 46 catches, 349 of his 661 yards and three of his four touchdowns, including the game winner over Lufkin, in the postseason returns as does Jacob Johnson, who went down in Week 7, at wide receiver.

"The thing about Kamden, people need to watch his blocking," King said. "He takes pride in it and we ask him to do some dirty work.

"When it's thrown his way, he just gives up regard for his body and goes and gets the football."

Up front Longview will return Marcus Williams, Gavin Roberts, Parker Cox, Kaylon Allen and Marcus Williams on the line.

Defensively, Jephaniah Lister, who had a team-high 144 tackles to go with four tackles for loss, two sacks, four interceptions and two blocked punts returns as a three-year starter, leads the charge for a unit that will be hard hit by graduation.

Linebacker Ja'Vontae Writt finished with 102 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, six fumble recovers and two interceptions and will be joined by Cameron Starling.

KING'S DEBUT YEAR

The day after Longview's loss to Midway, King was leaving the house when Haynes, his son and sophomore quarterback called out: "Do we have workouts today?"

"Not today, son," the elder King responded.

Haynes King started the final 11 games of the season for the Lobos, passing for 2,170 yards on 130-of-240 passing with 25 touchdowns. He added 238 rushing yards and two more scores in his debut season.

"I saw him grow up," John King said. "I'm proud of him. He never gets too emotional, never too high or too low and that's what you need at quarterback.

"He was steady and he grew. He's an intelligent football player. He grew up in this field house, around these coaches, the mentality and the attitude. I think he earned the respect of his teammates. Nothing was given to him and it won't be next year either or the next. He had to go out and earn it and he did that."

FINDING 'IT'

This offseason, which includes realignment in February with the Lobos staying put in Class 6A, will focus on rebuilding and reloading.

"Moving foward, next year is next year," King said. "I told them today that they haven't won a game yet.

"Every position is open and we'll move forward with 173 kids in the program looking forward to getting ready for 2018.

"This past offseason was one of the best we had and the success we had started on Day 1. You look at the roster and say, y'all should be good on this side of the ball or on that side of the ball. The potential is there but the production needs to be there as well. That starts now.

"I believe with the leadership out of these players and these coaches, we'll find a way to bring out that 'it' factor."

Follow Hayden Henry on Twitter: @hayden_h

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