It’s Lakeview vs. Red River, so it’s a big deal.
Rivalries make sports fun, and in high school sports, they’re extra special. With a short 20-minute drive between the two schools, there’s plenty of common ground and paths crossed throughout the year for students, faculty, family, and alumni.
A basketball matchup between powerhouse teams from Lakeview and Red River drew a capacity crowd to NSU’s Prather Coliseum. So tonight’s 7 o’clock football contest in Coushatta, which is also Red River’s homecoming game, packs some extra punch for coach Brandon Helms and his LHS Gators.
“These kids know it’s Red River. Any time you have two schools fill up Prather Coliseum for a basketball game, it’s going to spill over to football. The interest is there,” said Helms. “It is different than any other week for us and I’m sure that works both ways.”
The young Lakeview squad has made progress but hasn’t tasted victory in a month. Coming in at 1-6, the Gators face tall odds against the 5-2 Bulldogs, led by standout senior quarterback Tre’ Smith.
“Red River forces us to do some different things because they are so skilled at quarterback,” said Helms.
“He’s a Navy commit who can hurt you with his legs and his arm. I’ve seen film of him throwing an out route from the near hash to the far sideline, which requires incredible arm strength and forces us to adjust, respecting that capability.
“Hopefully we can present some different looks they haven’t seen. The big thing is to keep the ball in front of us, rally to the ball and tackle, don’t give up the big play, and make them try to move the length of the field and not in chunks,” said Helms.
The Gators’ running game is the ideal antidote.
“Offensively we want to take care of the football and pound that clock. Our best defense is to keep their offense off the field,” said Helms. “They want to work fast, and we want to go slow. It’s a battle of tempos.”
Since losing a homefield showdown with District 3-2A leader Many, Red River hasn’t been as explosive offensively.
“They’ve had some turnover issues in the last couple of games, putting the ball on the ground, and they’ve hurt themselves with some penalties. I know they’re working to clean that up, and so are we. It’s going to be the team that plays the cleaner game who walks off happy,” said Helms, who has a basic target for his offense.
“If we get four yards on first down, I consider that a win. We’ve put ourselves behind the chains far too often with a penalty, a pre-snap flag usually, or a bust up front, putting us in second-and-long or first and 15 or 20. We want to be at second-and-6 or better.”
Encouraging progress from the road graders up front bodes well near and long-term.
“I’ve been really pleased with our offensive line picking up some of the new schemes we’re teaching,” said Helms. “The entire front is making progress. The good thing is, there’s only one senior, so not only will we benefit now from that improvement but we will carry it over into the spring and 2022 season.”
Along with the O-line, the Gators have gotten especially good work this week from their two defensive leaders.
“Our back end is going to be challenged Friday night and I’ve been happy how they’ve worked, especially (junior safety) Dillon Pikes, as always. Another guy who we bank on is (senior linebacker) Matthew Howard and he’s been really good this week,” said Helms.
Despite being on the road, Helms and the Gators have reason to believe they have an advantage.
“I know how hard homecoming weeks are for the home team. I told our guys, ‘let’s go up there and do what we do, and let the outside things influence them. Let’s get off to a fast start and make them play our game.’ “
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