LUFKIN — In a battle between East Texas heavyweights, the larger opponent outlasted the undersized one.
And a surprise wideout grabbed the spotlight in the end.
Jamal Jeffrey hauled in a 28-yard touchdown catch from Nick Cox late in the fourth quarter as Lufkin upended John Tyler 34-31 in a thriller in Friday’s season opener at Abe Martin Stadium.
Lufkin lost the total-yardage battle (396-288) but still squeezed out its second straight three-point win over JT.
“It’s like this every time we play,” said longtime Lufkin head coach John Outlaw. “Unfortunately somebody has to lose. If we can play anybody more athletic than them in the playoffs then I’m scared because they’re very athletic.”
Running behind a beefy offensive line, Jamarcus Walker scored Lufkin’s first four TDs and carried the ball 34 times for 189 yards. Jeffrey atoned from a fumble near midfield early in the fourth, with JT clinging to a four-point lead. Jeffrey’s game-winning snatch overshadowed a brilliant night from JT junior receiver Fred Ross, who finished with 199 total yards and three TDs, despite missing most of the first half due to what appeared to be cramps, exhaustion or a combination of the two.
“Jamal had his head down,” Outlaw added. “We gave him an opportunity to get his head back up and he made a play.”
Ross’ final TD — an 18-yard catch from fellow junior quarter Greg Ward — moved JT in front 28-27 late in the third quarter. JT, ranked No. 9 in Class 4A, extended its lead to four on Julian Varona’s field goal but ultimately fell short against the traditional Class 5A powerhouse
Lufkin managed only two pass completions the entire second half while riding the legs of Walker.
Ross reeled in four catches for 112 yards, and stepped off 87 yards on two rushes, including a 73-yard TD run. Darion Flowers topped JT with eight receptions for 132 yards — the last a nine-yarder to the JT 42 as time ticked off.
Ward, making his first varsity start at quarterback after leading last year’s state quarterfinalists in receiving, completed 19 of 28 passes for 261 yards.
DeVonte Haggerty carried 10 times for 109 yards, including a 63-yard TD run on a keeper in the third with Ward out hobbled momentarily. A number of Lions left the game early, not helping an already depth-depleted team’s cause. JT committed seven costly penalties for 60 yards and turned the ball over twice along with a botched punt.
The Lufkin defensive line wreaked havoc, totaling six sacks from two players: Demontrai Lewis (3 1/2) and Tomme Mark (2 1/2).
“I knew they were going to show effort,” JT head coach Dereck Rush said. “We just had to overcome our mistakes and we couldn’t do that.”
JT raced to a 14-point lead after Ross took his first two touches to the house. Ross caught a pass from Ward over the middle, eluded one defender’s grab for his feet and jetted down the crease of the field for an electrifying 89-yard jaunt to open the scoring.
On his very next touch, Ross received the handoff from Ward heading left, changed directions up the gut and burned the Lufkin defense again for a 73-yard score.
Ross watched the rest of the first half from the bench before returning after the intermission.
The JT offense gained a negative-26 yards the rest of the half in his absence, and turned the ball over twice.
In the meantime Lufkin logged three consecutive scores — all courtesy Walker — as its run game heated up and JT struggled moving the ball.
JT avoided further damage despite a fumble at its own 39, after which the Lions held on downs. Later a high snap on the punt allowed Lufkin to set up from the JT 18, although the Panthers missed a 39-yard field goal with the Lions still ahead seven.
Lufkin limited JT to zero first downs in the second quarter while scoring the two go-ahead TDs.
Both teams play in the Trinity Mother Frances Classic in Tyler next week - Lufkin versus Robert E. Lee on Friday and JT against Longview on Saturday.
“The team with the less mistakes won,” Rush reiterated. “You can’t do that against a quality team like Lufkin. We’re going to keep working and go back to the drawing board.”
Lufkin 34, John Tyler 31
At Abe Martin Stadium
John Tyler 14 0 14 3 — 31
Lufkin 7 14 6 7 — 34
JT—Fred Ross 89 pass from Greg Ward (Julian Varona kick), 6:32
JT—Ross 73 run (Varona kick), 4:46
LUF—Jamarcus Walker 3 run (Luis Garcia kick), 2:32
LUF—Walker 3 run (Garcia kick), 2:06
LUF—Walker 1 run (Garcia kick), 0:42
JT—DeVonte Haggerty 62 run (Varona kick), 9:00
LUF—Walker 10 run (kick failed), 7:26
JT—Ross 18 pass from Ward (Varona kick), 6:15
JT—FG Varona 33, 10:48
LUF—Jamal Jeffrey 28 pass from Nick Cox (Garcia kick), 4:51
First Downs 18 16
Rushes-Yards 36-135 47-210
Passing Yards 261 78
Com.-Att.-Int. 19-28-0 6-15-0
Punts-Avg. 6-34.5 4-35.8
Fumbles-Lost 5-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 7-60 2-10
RUSHING—John Tyler, Devonte Haggerty 10-109, Fred Ross 2-87, Reggie Gipson 2-4, Greg Ward 17-(-6), Team 5-(-59); Lufkin, Jamarcus Walker 34-189, Nick Cox 6-11, Voshon Richardson 6-5, Chris Durham 1-5.
PASSING—John Tyler, Ward 19-28-0—261; Cox 6-15-0—78
RECEIVING—John Tyler, Darion Flowers 8-132, Ross 4-112, Justic Liggins 2-9, Gipson 2-4, Haggerty 2-2, DeQuante Woods 1-2; Lufkin, Jamal Jeffrey 4-50, Jabryce Taylor 1-26, Walker 1-2.