STORY BY RICHARD CROOME
Livingston’s Jaquavious Nickson threw for a touchdown on the opening play from scrimmage and made the catch of the night for another score when the Lions needed it most in a 26-13 District 18-5A victory over the Rudder Rangers on Friday at Merrill Green Stadium.
The win was the first for the Lions (2-5, 1-3) in 18-5A, while the Rangers fell to 1-6 overall and 0-4 n district.
Nickson took a pitch from quarterback Kurt Nelson and just before he got to the sideline heaved the ball to Ryan Rice, who caught it in stride at the Ranger 35-yard line and took it in for a 68-yard touchdown reception 15 seconds into the game.
“It was a trick play, and we got our eyes caught in the backfield,” Rudder coach Will Compton said. “It ended up as a touchdown, but that wasn’t the result of the game. We battled back from there and tried to get a little momentum defensively with different guys.”
The Rangers bore down defensively from there, giving up less than 75 yards the remainder of the first half. And Rudder pulled within three on it opening drive of the second half, but Nickson caught a pass over the middle, reaching behind him with one hand and pulling it in, then running the last 20 yards untouched for a 28-yard touchdown reception from Wilson.
Rudder came into the game without starting quarterback Brady Batten, who left the team to concentrate on baseball, and then lost backup quarterback Cody Collins to an elbow injury on his second series, the team’s third series.
Spencer Choka opened at quarterback after the trick play put the Rangers down 7-0. The Rangers fumbled twice on the series and had to punt.
Collins’ first series the Rangers turned the ball over on downs and the second they had to punt. Collins injured his elbow on the play before the punt, a 1-yard loss by Collins and outside of Choka taking a couple of snaps, the Rangers went with junior David Hobson at quarterback the rest of the way.
The Rangers struggled with all the changes, getting three first downs in the first half, two by penalty.
The Ranger defense was returning the favor, holding the Lions to four first-half first downs. The second was on a 34-yard pass from Wilson to Nickson to set up an Ivan Vasquez 29-yard field goal in the first quarter.
“Cody Collins is our starting quarterback, and we have packages where Spencer comes in,” Compton said. “Cody got hurt on the first series so, we brought in David and he did a great job tonight once he got settled. We tried to find something he could work with, and overall I thought he did a great job.”
Hobson led the Rangers to a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, finding Brian Williams for a 16-yard touchdown pass to end a 69-yard drive in which William Dates picked up more yardage on two runs (39) than the Rangers had in the first half.
Sophomore Kaidron Latson took over on the second Rangers’ scoring drive, picking up 21 yards two plays before cutting upfield on an outside run for 26 yards and a touchdown, which included Latson carrying a couple of Lion defenders the final 5 yards.
“We finally put things together,” Compton said. “We had a couple of plays at the half that we thought could work, and they had some good runs for us in the second half. Any time you have a quarterback that is new, you want to make him comfortable, so the easiest thing to do is catch the ball and give it to somebody else. That’s been our package. Latson has been doing a great job with that, and finally it popped for us a couple of times.”
The Rudder offense was not only hampered by the departure of Batten, who had thrown for more than 1,000 yards and was the team’s leading rusher, but running back Jamall Collins did not play and leading receiver Jermaine Mills pulled up with an injury on a long pass midway through the second quarter and never returned.
“We are not going to make excuses for what we do and don’t have,” Compton said. “We have the guys that dressed out tonight, and that’s what we are going to go fight with every night. I’m proud of these guys. They didn’t give up. They continue to fight all the way through.”
One of the bounces came late after the Lions went up 24-13 on Wilson’s 2-yard run midway through the fourth quarter. On a third-and-15 from the 1, Hobson threw downfield to Williams, who won the battle with the cornerback and got inside the 10 before being pushed out of bounds. The play was nullified and the Lions given a safety though because of a holding call in the end zone.
“It is what it is, you can’t worry about what you can’t control,” Compton said. “We’ve got a great group of guys that have grown up a lot this year through adversity. We just have to focus on the things that we are doing really well and build off those things. We are doing so me good things, tackling better, and now that we got a new quarterback in we have to find some things that he can do well.”
Senior Travis Piper did a couple of things well, coming down with two interceptions, while the defensive line of Chris Espinoza, JP Gonzales, Josh Peoples and Charles Owens combined for five sacks and along with Choka at linebacker helped hold the district’s second leading rusher, David Caddie, to 7 yards in the first half. He finished with 96 yards on 20 carries.
Dates had a career-best 65 yards on 14 carries and Latson finished with 39 yards on eight carries.
Rudder travels to Huntsville on Friday.
Story courtesy of the B/CS Eagle