The final score showed Robert E. Lee (1-2) rallying back from a 24-18 deficit in the third quarter en route to a 39-30 win over John Tyler Friday in the 56th edition of the Rose City Showdown.
But none of it happens without a gutsy call from head coach Randy Huffstickler and a Red Raider defense that would not be denied against a quick-strike JT offense.
The Lions had rolled up 912 yards of offense and 53 points in their first two games. Meanwhile, Lee had been outscored 24-7 in the first quarter and 48-7 in the first half of two double-digit losses.
That made the opening minutes critical. The Red Raiders could ill afford to do what they did at Euless Trinity when REL drove the ball at will, but came away with no points.
Lee received the opening kickoff, and after a 21-yard return from Vincent Cato, Lee began its first drive from its own 41. On second-and-7, Dalaven Baker followed his blockers for a 30-yard run to push to JT’s 26. The drive stalled from there at the 23.
Huffstickler sent his field goal team out, but the attempt was foiled on a bad snap.
The Lions now attempted to take advantage, but a fired up Red Raiders defense forced a rare three-and-out for JT. A bad punt gave Lee the ball at midfield. Once again Lee moved into JT territory before stalling out at the Lion 33.
So what to do now?
Go for another field goal with the possibility of a block or another bad snap? Go for it on fourth-and-6 or punt and try to pin them back?
It was a 50-yard attempt and junior Lumi Kaba’s hadn’t kicked a field goal all season.
Huffstickler never blinked and immediately sent Kaba out.
His call was rewarded with a 50-yarder that had just enough distance. It may have only been three points, but it was the first time Lee had led a game this season and gave the Red Raiders some much-needed payoff for their efforts. Kaba later connected from 47 yards out.
“That guy can kick the football,” Huffstickler said of Kaba. “He would’ve made the first one (without the bad snap). That guy is a weapon. We’ve been saying that all year.”
Kaba’s leg put Lee’s nose out in front and the Red Raider defense took it from there, stopping JT on fourth and short for a turnover on downs. It was one of two times Lee’s defense denied the Lions on fourth and short.
The Red Raiders responded with a six points this time as LaQuintas Wallace capped an eight-play, 60-yard drive with the first of three touchdown runs.
JT’s third drive ended the same as the first two — in frustration. After the Lions registered their third first down of the half, Lee forced a fumble and LaDarrell Smith scooped it up and returned it 14 yards the other way.
Beginning at JT’s 44, the Red Raider offense could only go 14 yards, but Kaba’s boot from 47 yards away still increased Lee’s lead to 12-0 with 8:17 to go in the half.
“I think when we came out in (those first few drives) we were going to show them what we were all about,” said Lee senior linebacker Patrick Durman. “We just kept fighting the whole time. We needed this win, we had to have it. Our offense produced the points we needed and it was just awesome.”
JT could not be held down for long and displayed its speed and quick-strike ability with touchdowns on its next two drives. Quarterback Greg Ward continually eluded tacklers and found receivers DeVonte Haggerty (5-70), Fred Ross (8-109) and Justice Liggins (5-31) for big gains.
In between, Wallace took a handoff 44 yards to paydirt to help the Red Raiders maintain a two-point lead (18-16) at halftime.
It was up to Lee’s defense in the second half to provide enough resistance. It responded by stopping JT with a three-and-out and denying the Lions on a fourth and short.
The Red Raiders still had had to come up with a stop on a two-point conversion to ultimately seal the deal.
“Our defensive line did an awesome job of pressuring (Ward) and our DBs covered their receivers amazingly," Durman said of the two-point stop.
A year ago, a disheartened winless Lee team faced The Woodlands. Thanks to Friday’s efforts, the Highlanders will now have to contend with an energized Red Raider squad. REL aims to make it two in a row against the Highlanders at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Woodforest Bank Stadium.
"We just have to stay hyped like (we did in this win)," Durman said. "Just because we've won one game we can't (get complacent). We need to stay on top and (keep improving)."