Last year, John Tyler’s success was spearheaded by its record-breaking offense.
But judging by the Blue-White Spring Game, the Lions defense looks to now be equally dominant.
Incoming senior quarterback Greg Ward connected on two touchdown passes and ran for another. Meanwhile the JT defense had five sacks, an interception, recovered a fumble and forced the offense into five three-and-outs and/or fourth-down stops.
All of it added up to an enjoyable afternoon for new Lions head coach Ricklan Holmes on Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
“It was wonderful; I appreciate and I thank the kids every day for how they reacted at the beginning,” said Holmes, who was named head coach in early May after the sudden departure of Derrick Rush to Conroe Oak Ridge. “With Rush leaving and not knowing who the head coach was going to be; from that first spring practice they were focused. They didn’t drag, they weren’t lazy, and they came out with a point to prove.
“We are the No. 1 team for a reason and that is what they came out and showed this spring.”
The spring game featured 50 total plays with the defense wearing blue and the offense wearing white. The first 12 was first-team offense against first-team defense with second 12 being second-team offense vs. first-team defense. The third units faced off for eight plays before bringing back the first team offense and defense to finish things off.
The whistle blew on the first touch of a quarterback, but Holmes believes even with the quick whistle, JT’s defense flew around the field.
“We had at least four or five sacks and another one our defender, because he knew he couldn’t go for his legs went down and tried to wrap him up,” Holmes continued. “And elusive as (Ward) is, you can’t do that. Our defense is better from last year and that is what we’ve been working on all spring.
“Last year our defense was our Achilles’ heel. Our defense did well enough to keep us in games, but we want them to do well enough to put us in games.”
The offense totaled 273 yards and four touchdowns and it could’ve been much more if not for a costly penalty that negated a 68-yard scoring run by Ward.
“Our offense is a fine-tuned machine and all I have to do is get in the driver’s seat and let them go,” Holmes said. “All of those guys are veteran guys and they know what to do and we aren’t going to change a thing.”
In the first 12-play session featuring the No. 1 units, Ward lofted a strike over the defender into the waiting hands of DeQuante Woods, who took it the rest of the way for a 63-yard touchdown. After resetting things and starting up again, Ward kept the ball and raced up the middle for a 22-yard gain.
The drive was stopped on the next play when JT’s Isaac Warren stepped in front of a Ward pass for the interception.
Ward got loose again three plays later, this time covering 68 yards to paydirt. Only the referee’s flag kept it from being 12-0.
The defense stiffened after that, not allowing a first down until the final two plays of the second session. After a pass interference gave JT’s second offense new life on third down, Justice Liggins grabbed a swing pass from Devonte Humber, spun out of two tackles in the backfield and motored down the sideline for a 54-yard touchdown.
The rest of the game was JT’s defense repelling every attempt by the offense until another moment of scrambling brilliance by Ward helped net his second touchdown. Evading the rush he lofted a 31-yard pass to Fred Ross. Two plays later, Ward and Ross hooked up again for a 6-yard touchdown on a fade.
The final session featured two possessions that began in the red zone. The first-team offense and defense split with Ward taking a second-and-goal carry for a 10-yard touchdown, but the defense holding on fourth-and-goal for the second try.
The Lions begin the 2012 season with a clear goal of clearing two hurdles that stood in their way last year and prevented JT from capturing the school’s fourth state championship.
Holmes is not shying away from that goal.
“I told them that we have seven gold balls that we are going to go get; a district championship and six games leading all the way up to the state championship,” Holmes continued. “I told them at the end of the year, I want them all to kiss those seven gold balls and we will take a big group picture with them.
“I want everyone to understand what we’re doing. It’s a new era, but we’ve got an old flavor.”