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Live Oak faces tough test
All summer, the Lions were loud. They were fired-up through two-a-days, busting off jokes and exuding machismo under the searing August sun. They would scream out whenever they made a hit and the assistant coaches got all rah-rah and jumpy when the players pummeled the tackling dummies.
They were confident, ready to take on all comers as they prepared for a season where the goal was obvious — get to and win the Northern Section Division III title. The players would walk by the four stars hanging from the school's press box, each commemorating a section championship, and talk about how they wanted one that read "2010."
Now, that moment's here. Tonight at 7 p.m. the top-seeded Lions will host No. 2 Durham for the Northern Section Division III championship.
It's a long way from 100 degree afternoons, and gone is that we'll-smash-all attitude from the Lions' practice. On walkthroughs Tuesday, the loudest person on the field is normally one of the quietest — head coach Dan Johnson.
"No, no, no ... Run it again ... Let's go," he said as his players labored about, stuffing their hands into pockets to keep them warm as the wind chill on the field brought the temperature into the low 40s.
Believe it or not, this team is having some chills. "This is a kind of nervousness," Johnson said after practice.
Nerves or not, Johnson and his boys are prepared, he said. In an offense with little variety — Live Oak practically employs a run-always strategy — they may have even practiced themselves into boredom.
"You get this late into the season and it gets a bit redundant," he said. "I think we're as prepared as we're going to be. I think we're as good as we're going to get."
Durham isn't an unknown. They're a league opponent of the Lions and Live Oak topped them 28-27 on October 22. In that game, the Lions had no passing yards and 199 rushing yards. Plus, the Trojans throttled Trinity (the only team that beat Live Oak) 35-7 in the semifinals.
That absence of an air attack needs to change, Johnson said. Quarterback Travis Seagraves, whose primary function is handing off and pitching to running back Kaleb Allen, will be asked to find his wide receivers tonight.
"I think there are some things we can do a bit different and we have to do better," Johnson said. "We do have the ability to throw the ball."
They also have the ability to re-emerge as that team determined to win the school's first title since 2002.
"It's been a positive all year long," Johnson said of the team's success. "You hear at school and the community that people want to be a part of it."