“Any time you start off the game with a turnover, it’s always a bad thing,” Henderson head coach Phil Castles said when reflecting on last week’s 34-0 loss against the Carthage Bullogs. “It makes for a long night.”
There’s a lot Castles could critique about the Lions’ final home game of the 2018 season. The game got off to a bad start as the Lions fumbled the ball on their first offensive play of the game. It was the first of three turnovers in a game that saw the Lions having trouble moving the ball downfield for the first time since their opening game against Whitehouse back in August. But rather than dwell on the negatives, of which Castles says there were many, he stresses his appreciation for the efforts his team put forth.
“There were several kids I thought gave great effort all game l0ng,” Castles said. “Our quarterback [Sevastian DeLeon] is a tough son of a gun, man. He plays with his heart and never complains, even if he’s banged up. He’s somebody that’s respected by his players, his peers, and his coaches.”
Despite the efforts of DeLeon and others, Castles knows that there are plenty of things for his team to work on heading into the playoffs, especially as Henderson always has the potential to cross paths with the Bulldogs in the postseason (it was Carthage that took the Lions out of the playoffs in the semi-finals last year). But right now his biggest focus is putting his team back in the win column in their final game of the regular season.
The Lions’ opponents this week, the Van Vandals, are new to the “district of doom,” but Castles isn’t surprised to see the success they’ve had.
“We knew coming in that they’d had some really good seasons the last few years,” Castles said. “We expected them to be right in the mix and sure enough, they are.”
The Vandals boast a strong offensive front that focuses on the passing game built on the backbone of quarterback Liam Nielson and his favorite wide receiver Ethan Robinson. They’re also strong defensively, particularly against the running game which has in part led to their success against running-based offenses like Kilgore and Palestine. Friday’s game will have postseason ramifications as the winner will go into the bracket as the second seed while the loser will go in as the third. But what’s more important to Castles is the positive momentum a win would create for his squad.
“I think playing well is more important than being the second or third seed,” Castles said. “That really is not a big factor. But we want to get that good taste in our mouths again.”
Castles knows that Friday’s game poses a big challenge to his team, not only because the Vandals are a serious team capable of taking the win, but also because it’s the first time the Lions have traveled a distance this far since their second game of the season against Pleasant Grove. In addition, after what Castles calls an “emotional loss,” it will be tough for his team to rally and focus the way they need to. But Castles and the Lions have never been shy about facing down adversity and he hopes that will play to their benefit this Friday in Van.
“It’s a game that honestly means not much,” Castles said. “It’s very difficult to not view this as a trap game. It’s tough to get up for. It’s nothing but adversity. But it’s good for our kids to face that.