Antlers claim district-opening thriller against Lockhart

The Antlers celebrate as Luke Johnston comes off the field with the ball after a game-winning interception against Lockhart Friday night in the team's District 15-5A Div. II opener at Lions Stadium.

The Antlers took the heat following five consecutive losses from a tough pre-district schedule, embraced the experience, used their off week to prepare and perfect their strategy and emerged on the field at Lions Stadium Friday night confident and ready for a run at the post season by locking in a hard-fought 50-43 win over Lockhart in their District 15-5A Div. II opener.

“It was worth it to play those hard teams. They really didn’t matter and they were getting us ready for district,” Tivy senior running back Ryan Maberry said. “District (play) started tonight and we are 1-0. It feels really good and we’re going to be confident going into (Boerne) Champion week.”

Maberry, who had logged 138 rushing yards in combined pre-district games, rushed for 206 yards on 21 carries against the Lions Friday night.

“That was really our O-line. They were opening gaps wide. They were working hard all night,” Maberry said. “We practiced hard. We never held our head down. We stayed hungry in practice and were very prepared for tonight.”

Tivy junior quarterback Jake Layton completed 18 of 24 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns against Lockhart.

“We had the best two weeks of practice and we were really prepared,” Layton said. “I was really comfortable in this game. I think playing those tough teams helped us get ready. Coach told us to keep our heads right and beat the guy in front of you on every play and that’s what we did. We’re definitely ready for the rest of the season.”

Coach David Jones was beaming at the end of the night, proud of his players and happy for the win.

“Obviously, we needed to win ... and to win one that was back-and-forth and to fight the entire game, that was an incredible effort by our kids and I’m just really proud of them,” Jones said. “The offensive line did a tremendous job and Ryan Maberry was just incredible. The guys that needed to make plays for us at crucial times made them. Jake (Layton) made some really good throws and good decisions. Fisher (Middleton) had some great plays. I’m proud of our kids.”

Jones said that while losing games is never fun, the experience for his relatively young team to face powerhouse and Class 6A schools was valuable.

“We’ve been tested,” Jones said. “You know the offense had been struggling that last two or three weeks, not making yards, but tonight we just made plays when we needed something to happen and it was just an all-around good effort.”

The Antlers started strong, scoring in six plays on their first possession when Layton connected with Jackson Johnston on a 44-yard touchdown pass after only 2:15 of play. Steven Grocki split the uprights to give the Antlers a 7-0 lead.

The Tivy defense contained the Lions and senior linebacker Ethan Honeycutt ended the first Lockhart series with a fourth down sack for a loss, forcing the ball over on downs to the Antlers at mid-field.

Tivy scored three plays later when Maberry broke free to rush 34 yards to the end zone. With Grocki’s extra point kick, the Antlers upped their lead to 14-0 at the 5:34 mark.

Lockhart responded two minutes later when quarterback Ashton Dickens scampered across the goal line on a 64-yard keeper. Joseph Suarez made good on the extra point attempt and the Lions were back in the game with 3:13 left in the first quarter.

Lockhart knotted the score at 14-14 when Dickens completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Joseph Duron with 10:08 left in the half and Suarez earned the extra point.

The Lions took the lead at the 6:42 mark when Dickens rushed eight yards for a touchdown. Suarez failed on the point after attempt, giving Lockhart a 20-14 advantage.

Maberry pushed his way through a congested line of scrimmage to break free and score on a 22-yard run with 3:35 left in the half. With Grocki’s extra point kick, the Antlers regained a brief 21-20.

Lockhart marched 57 yards down field, landing at the Tivy 18 yard line, but were denied a touchdown after the stout Antler defense put up a wall, forcing Suarez to settle for a 28-yard field goal instead with 57 seconds remaining in the half.

Maberry returned the kickoff 75 yards, giving Tivy excellent field position, but the Antlers were not able to beat the clock as the buzzer sounded with Tivy 18 yards from paydirt and the Antlers trailed 23-21 at halftime.

However, the Antlers regained the lead at the 4:11 mark in the third quarter when Fisher Middleton hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass from Layton. Grocki remained perfect on the night and punched through the extra point kick to give Tivy a 28-23 lead.

Dickens forced his way across the goal line from 1-yard out with 11:24 remaining in the game, but a two-point conversion attempt was denied by the Antler defense and the Lions were back on top at 29-28.

Mayberry combined two carries for 28 yards and Logan Edmonds added three carries for 44 yards and a touchdown with 9:37 left on the clock to transfer the lead to Tivy at 36-29 when Layton dove across the goal line for the two-point conversion.

Dickens responded 30 seconds later on a 26-yard touchdown keeper and Suarez added the extra point for Lockhart to tie the game at 36-36.

Tivy’s Jackson Johnston hauled in an amazing 55-yard pass for his second touchdown of the game with 8:00 remaining. Grocki successfully completed the extra point kick and the Antlers were ahead 43-36.

“Jake and I have had a connection since middle school,” Jackson Johnston said. “We’ve kind of thrown the fade ball and I was glad when they called that play. Jake threw a perfect ball and I was able to score. This is a great win and we are so excited.”

The Lions refused to give up, however, and Dickens found his way into the end zone once more on a 16-yard keeper. With Suarez’ extra point kick, the score was tied again at 43-43 with 5:27 remaining.

Antler fans were on the feet and the excitement in the stadium was palpable.

Maberry forced his way through a crowded field for a 9-yard touchdown run with 1:20 left in the game and Grocki stayed perfect on the night to get the Antlers a 50-43 lead.

The Lions had proven that they did not need much time to score and now Tivy’s fate was in the capable hands of the Antler defense, who gave up only one first down and forced a fourth down at mid-field with 38 seconds remaining in the game.

With no choice, Lockhart went for the four yards needed for a first down, but a Dickens' pass was picked off by Tivy’s Luke Johnston, whose play clinched the win for Tivy.

“We needed that stop,” Luke Johnston said. “The quarterback rolled out, he overthrew a little bit and I was able to read the play and get the pick. I wanted to get an interception and I was finally able to.”

In total, the Antlers put up 516 yards on offense, while the Lions recorded 560 offensive yards. Tivy earned 25 first downs, compared to Lockhart’s 23. Both teams were called for three penalties.

Edmonds rushed for 51 yards and one touchdown on seven carries for Tivy. Middleton added 24 ground yards on five touches.

Jackson Johnston logged 126 receiving yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. Middleton grabbed three passes for 81 yards and one touchdown. Desnic Houston finished with three catches for 10 yards.

The Antlers have improved their record to 1-0 in district and 1-5 overall.

Tivy will travel to Boerne on Friday, where they will continue loop play against 1-10 rival Boerne Champion. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

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