Raiders stun Lions in homecoming game

The Lions marching towards the tunnel carrying their flags. They lead with the flag Molon Labe which means come and take them.

The whole week before the game, emotions ran high. There are few rivalries like this one. At the pep rally before the game, senior football player Jacob Potter taught everyone the Yes! chant to fire them up. Both Lions and Raiders exchanged words in the annual Twitter “wars” and Rouse students wore “Battle for Bible” t-shirts and they broke out their familiar “Whose House?” cries from the visitor’s side, and a sea of royal blue-clad fans screamed “LEANDER! LEANDER!” across the field.

The stadium, however, went quiet at the moment of silence as the first notes of Taps was played. Rivalry was set aside, as players and fans cried and the flags flew at half-mast to honor the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The crowd also honored veterans and first-responders from the Leander community prior to the coin toss.

“It was definitely a special moment,” senior Gabriel Sanchez said. “There was a sense of mutual respect between both sides to honor our veterans and to remember the events of 9/11.”

At kickoff, the student sections on both sides of the stadium erupted with chants and cheers. The Raiders came into the game at 0-2 after losing to San Antonio Brennan and Cedar Park. The Lions came into the game 1-1 after a win against Pflugerville and a loss to Killeen in week one. After the game, both the Raiders and the Lions would be 1-2, with a final score of 38-24.

“We all felt good,” senior Matthew Long said. “We were eager to play.”

The Raiders scored first in the first quarter, and they elected to go for a 2-point conversion, making it 8-0. Leander’s first drive resulted with a field goal by junior Kyle Murdock. On Rouse’s next drive they would score again, making it 15-3 in Rouse’s favor. Murdock landed a punt on the 1 yard line, forcing Rouse to start deep in their own territory. In the second quarter, the Raiders shut out the Lions with a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown after an interception, and a field goal. At the end of the half, Rouse led 31-3 against the Lions.

“[In the] second half we came out with a mission,” Sanchez said. “It was the last time us seniors were ever going to play Rouse, so we motivated others and picked up the intensity, something that was missing in the first half.”

On the opening drive of the second half, Long scored a rushing touchdown, but Murdock’s extra point was no good, with Rouse still in the lead 31-9. Rouse then scored their final touchdown of the game, making it 38-9.

In the next drive, while under pressure from the Raiders, McNeil threw a 97 yard touchdown pass to Sanchez, who had 13 receptions for 184 yards in the game, and also broke a school record for longest touchdown reception. The Lions tried to close the gap, hanging in there with a score of 38-16 with 10:14 remaining in the game. 

I’m happy the team didn’t quit and put their heads down because in the second half we played way harder and didn’t give up.”

— Matthew Long

“It was exciting,” Sanchez said. “I was extremely happy and it couldn’t have been possible without the 10 other offensive players on the field. The offensive line blocked well and gave Parker time to throw, and Pedro Silva threw a defender off balance that probably would’ve caught me. So, huge shout out to Pedro Silva, but it definitely was exciting, no doubt.”

McNeil would later throw another touchdown to senior Michael Berry, who had 64 receiving yards in the game. McNeil ended the game with 23/40 pass completions, 355 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. as well as 5 rushes for 28 yards. The Lions scored 15 unanswered points in the 4th quarter, but time was not on their side and the game ended with a final score of 38-24.

“In the first half we weren’t ready to play and it showed up on the scoreboard,” Long said. “I’m happy the team didn’t quit and put their heads down because in the second half we played way harder and didn’t give up.”

Despite the loss, the Lions showed toughness and improved in the second half nearly making a comeback and putting up big plays. The Lions will open up district play next week at home against Georgetown (3-0).

“[We’re going to work on] a lot of ball security drills on offense,” head coach Tim Smith said. “We are turning the ball over so we have to get that fixed. Defensively they have a couple real good receivers we have to prepare for. We have to give the quarterback some different looks so he doesn’t get too comfortable throwing the ball.”