Red Raiders show positive signs

Tavon Wesley (right) take a handoff from quarterback Zach Hall. Photo by Lang White

 

 

Robert E. Lee has a sign that hangs on the wall visible to the players before entering their locker room at Suddenlink Communications Field House.

There are 4 goals.

One of the four is the Red Raiders making the playoffs.

There are three more, but for all intensive purposes are irrelevant until Lee accomplishes that one.

Darrell Piske, in his second year at the helm, improved from last year's 1-9 finish to a 4-6 record with a 1-5 record in District 12-5A.

The offensive production from 2012 to 2013 is very noticeable.

In 2012, the Red Raiders rushed for 1,515 yards and passed for 868. Their leading rusher, LaQuintas Wallace, totaled 583 yards and seven touchdowns. This year, Lee racked up 2,294 yards rushing with Zach Hall (151-739, 8 TDs) and Tavon Wesley (109-718, 8 TDs) both surpassing Wallace's totals.

The passing game shows an even larger discrepancy. A year ago, Lee passed for 868 yards with quarterback Raleigh Poster finishing with 645 through the air and two touchdowns. The Red Raiders finished this season with 1,460 yards passing, led by Hall, who passed for 1,131 yards and 10 touchdowns.

As far as receiving, it's like night and day. Lee's top receiver in 2012 was Bryce Wilkerson, who caught 17 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Wilkerson led Lee this season finishing with 43 catches for 762 yards and seven touchdowns. Marquiston Williams totaled 31 catches for 412 yards and three touchdowns.

Putting that into perspective: Wilkerson and Williams combined receptions (74), yardage (1174) and touchdowns (10) were more than any Lee team has produced since 2010.

Speaking of scoring, Lee scored 137 points total last season. This year, the Red Raiders put 286 points on the scoreboard.

All of those are positives and Piske acknowledges that, but points out the Red Raiders still did not accomplish the first goal on the list and he wants Lee to strive for that and more next season.

"I am still (disappointed) that we are not playing this week (in the playoffs)," Piske said. "We made strides and are heading in the right direction, but we just have to fix what (didn't work) this year to make sure next year we get one of those playoff spots."

The Red Raiders flew out of the gates the season, defeating Sulphur Springs on the road in its season opener and taking down Lufkin at home. Against the Wildcats, REL totaled 648 yards in a 55-20 win while the 42-30 win over the Panthers was Lee's first over Lufkin since 2003.

Then came an annual clash against John Tyler and the first signs of what would hamper the Red Raiders for the rest of the season.

In a word: turnovers.

Lee lost three fumbles, was intercepted once and failed to jump on a short kickoff in a 44-0 loss.

REL rebounded the next week at Texas High by creating some turnovers and special teams highlights of its own. Lee linebacker Brandon Durman returned an interception for a touchdown with Bryce Wilkerson returning a kickoff for a score.

Then district began and the turnovers continued to pile up.

* 3 in a 48-21 loss at Mesquite Horn

* 2 in a 31-22 home loss to North Mesquite

* 2 in a 43-33 loss at Rockwall, which also featured Lee giving up a multiple lateral last-second touchdown play to end the first half that was featured on ESPN SportsCenter's Top Plays

* 1 in a 61-54 home victory over Mesquite. It was the only game in district where REL forced more turnovers than it gave up.

* 3 in 63-7 loss at Longview.

* 3 in 21-7 home loss against Rockwall-Heath

"We had turnovers at the wrong times," Piske said. "If you look at all of the district games that we lost, with the exception of Longview, we were in them and then we'd do something dumb at the wrong time and give the momentum back and not be able to get it back."

Lee's defense struggled to get teams off the field on third down, giving up 43 percent conversion rate, many of those on passes with Lee allowing opponents an average of 245.9 yards passing per game and 39.1 points per contest.

"We just have to produce some guys who can play in the secondary and play in space against the guys we're playing," Piske said. "We just have to get in the weight room and on the track and try to get those intangibles down; to cover people and tackle people in space."

Lee will graduate most of its defensive line and a few linebackers, led by leading tackler Desmond Dunn (79 tackles) and Triston Taylor (55 tackles, 4 sacks, 11 pressures).

The Red Raiders return many of its offensive weapons as Hall and Wesley were sophomores and five of its offensive linemen are sophomores or juniors. At receiver, REL will have to replace nearly everyone with the impending graduation of Wilkerson, Williams and Diondre Allen.

Lee does not know where it will be with realignment still to come, but Piske said the pieces are in place for a strong 2014.

"Really we just need to develop some of the fringe players. We've got some guys who are pretty decent and we want them to keep the hunger to get better and not be satisfied," Piske said. "The key is for those other guys who might not have had key roles this year, but will next year.

"We are going to focus on mental (and physical) toughness by getting on the track and in the weight room. Really the whole team needs to commit to doing what it takes; whether it's (changing) positions or whatever. We've made strides, but it's time to take the big step."

 

Robert E. Lee Rewind

Final Standing: 4-6 and 1-5 in District 12-5A

Biggest Win: Tie between win on road at Texas High and shootout win over Mesquite. The win in Texarkana was big because it was the defense and special teams that did it with the offense closing it out. Lee's offense did the heavy lifting against Mesquite with the defense closing it out.

Toughest Loss: North Mesquite. Red Raiders entered that game with high hopes but turnovers cost Lee and put them quickly at 0-2 in district.

Final Verdict: It was a season that started off full of promise and ultimately ended with unfulfilled goals, but with numerous underclassmen set to return after playing key roles, next year could be the end of the playoff drought and maybe challenge for a district title.

 

 

 

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