LORENA — It’s a district that won’t be decided until the final week of the regular season. Yes, that is the case for most districts across the state, but in the case of District 8-4A Div. II, the term undecided may not do the race to the playoffs justice with the jumble of teams vying for those coveted top four slots.
Quite frankly, it’s a mess.
Two of those teams tried to clear some things up Friday night at Lorena as the rival Leopards and Robinson Rockets faced off on the gridiron. Both teams have experienced their highs and lows this season — Lorena with its last-second loss a week ago, its first defeat of the season, and Robinson’s defensive strong-arm victory over Salado that proclaimed, “Don’t forget about us,” to the rest of the district squads.
And on this Week 7 of the season, Lorena and Robinson put on a show that went all the way to the final seconds. The game wasn’t even close, but that didn’t deter the Rockets from scoring 14 points in the final three minutes. And standing on the Lorena sideline as time ticked off the clock, it felt like the game was on the line, even though the Leopards came out with the 42-28 victory.
“I felt that way this summer when I was looking at all the teams,” Lorena head coach Ray Biles said. “I said, ‘Somebody’s going to be picked to win it. Somebody’s going to be picked seventh. It’s a fine line between those two positions.’ I don’t really think anything’s changed.”
In all the mess that is this district, both teams answered some big questions that will be vital as the weeks go on.
For Lorena, it all started on offense.
What can Bradley Lina do?
Whatever he wants.
The Leopard quarterback showed his range as he slung it downfield to a slew of gamers at wide receiver. In just two passes to Ben Craig in the first half, the duo had already connected for just shy of 100 yards. Lina can also run, as he showed quickly.
On the second play from scrimmage, the junior faked the handoff and charged up the middle untouched for a 58-yard touchdown to give the Leopards a lead they would never relinquish.
Oh, and Lina also kicks all of Lorena’s PATs.
Who does Lina throw to?
Whoever he wants.
The only thing he needs to work on moving forward is spotting the open receiver, which is easy for everyone sitting up in the stands to point out.
Midway through the second quarter, Lina missed a wide open Craig flashing across the middle of the field. So Lorena called the play again. This time, Lina hit the receiver in stride over his shoulder for a 48-yard gain.
Craig showed off his wheels on the next catch he made. He should have been tackled three different times. However, when a Rocket defender approached him, Craig did a little stop-and-go action, made the defender miss and kept sprinting toward the end zone for a 50-yard score.
OK, well what about the run game?
Then there’s AJ Brem and AJ Bell, the running backs with different fortes that complement each other so well. In the first half, it was mainly Bell turning heads, literally, as his speed was too much for the Robinson defenders to catch up to, especially after he broke around the side to break away down the sideline.
Enough about the offense. To stand out in this district, a team needs to have a stout defense. How is the Leopards’ defense?
It was linebacker Greg Martinez getting stops early. Then Daylon Bartosh chipped in. Then Zane Grimm had a big-time hit before he intercepted a pass in the end zone. Grimm picked off another pass in the second half.
While the Leopards answered plenty of questions looming after their first loss of the season, the Rockets showed they aren’t a one-hit wonder when it comes to district action. No, they’ve got Brady Kay at running back and a solid backup for Kay in Ethan Linder.
Several times throughout Friday’s contest, each guy gained extra yards after contact, dragging Leopard defenders forward with them.
While Lorena had to pay attention to the run game, they had to account for the arm of quarterback Jordan Rogers. The dude can flat out throw the ball. It looks almost effortless as he slings it 50 yards.
He should have had a touchdown pass in the first half, to go with his touchdown run, except the receiver dropped the ball in the end zone. It was a beauty of a 32-yard pass on a fade route by Isaiah Montgomery.
Montgomery did haul in a 39-yard pass from Rogers. That came on 3rd and 6 on the Rockets’ second drive of the night. The catch kept the drive alive as Kay advanced Robinson further down the field with his legs.
The sophomore running back actually caught a pass from Rogers, on 4th and 4 on the same drive, and his 12-yard reception put the Rockets 13 yards away from the end zone.
Rogers took it from there to put Robinson on the board.
Many of Rogers’ passing yards came after the catch, an area where the Rockets excel this season. For instance, the quarterback threw a dump pass to a receiver who took it over 10 yards for a first down. And then later on, Rogers hit Montgomery down the sideline. Once Montgomery caught it, the receiver accelerated and put distance between himself and the defender.
While all of these questions were answered by both teams Friday night — especially the Leopards strength at every position and the Rocket fight that truly never quits — the battle that went down on the gridiron shows how much of a toss-up this district is.
So buckle up, folks. Fans of Lorena, Robinson or whoever. This season is going to be a wild ride. We’ve already seen plenty of twists, loops, drops and ascents. And there’s sure to be plenty more.
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