College Station has been here before — a game in which the winner likely will be crowned district champion — and the Cougars are preparing for it like they would any other opponent.
College Station and Lufkin, ranked sixth and fourth respectively in the latest Texas AP Class 5A high school football poll, face off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cougar Stadium.
“I think right now the main thing is getting the kids in, working them fast and furious and keeping them engaged and focused on the game,” College Station head coach Steve Huff said. “We look at every week like it’s a district championship week. … Our district’s so tough this year that you can’t look beyond anybody.”
That mentality is similar to that of Lufkin coach Todd Quick and his team. The Panthers (4-1, 2-0 8-5A-1) have been in some pretty big games themselves, including a 35-28 season-opening loss to 6A No. 5 Longview. Similar to Huff’s bend-but-don’t-break mentality, Panthers coach Todd Quick said his team will have to “weather the storm” against the Cougars.
Like College Station (5-0, 2-0 8-5A-1), Lufkin has gotten healthy at the right time. Starting quarterback Kewone Thomas returned from an offseason injury to throw for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 9-of-13 passing and carry 16 times for 158 yards and two TDs in a 41-34 victory over Magnolia last week. Backup quarterback Jordan Moore played admirably in Thomas’ absence, throwing for 706 yards with 10 TDs and just one interception on 47-of-74 passing through five games.
“We’re very fortunate to have two kids that can play at a high level and understand that playing time is earned during the week,” Quick said. “We’re very fortunate to have two young men that can lead the team and want to lead the team.”
College Station, meanwhile, finally is getting its starting running backs, Roderick Brown and Kolbe Cashion, back into action as well as key receiver Spencer Maxwell. The Cougars came out of their 49-7 win over Waller healthy, Huff said.
Like College Station, the Panthers have a strong defense, but their strength is their line. Defensive end Breylon Garcia is a Nevada commit, while his counterpart Ja’Vasia Brunson has several Division I offers. Defensive tackle Carl Williams is an Arkansas pledge. If there’s one thing the Cougars have prepared for, though, it’s a strong defensive line.
“Huntsville’s that way,” Huff said. “Richmond Foster, their nose guard was offered by LSU the night after we played them. We’ve hopefully seen some of that in preparation for a team like this.”
Those nondistrict opponents as well as Waller last week also served to prepare College Station for speed, which is tough to replicate in practice.
“You’ve got to adjust to game speed really quick,” Huff said. “You can’t show their speed in practice with your scout teams. It just doesn’t work that way, so I think adjusting to that would be really huge.”
Both squads are big-play threats on special teams, and both coaches emphasized that phase of the game. For College Station, Brandon Joseph has blocked two punts, and Ryan Stapp returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Nuevo Leon.
“A lot of games are won or lost in that part because teams don’t put emphasis on it,” Quick said. “Teams that win, consistently win, put emphasis on all three phases.”
NOTE — College Station defensive backs coach Demarquis Jones is a Lufkin alumnus and played wide receiver for the Panthers.
“He doesn’t come into town without making contact,” said Quick, who was on staff during Jones’ time at Lufkin. “He’s a fine young man and works hard. We’re very proud of Jonesie.”
Quick added that “he’s one of our guys, but he’s a College Station Cougar through and through.”