by Brian Besch
The Nederland Bulldogs used a balanced offense to score 37 unanswered points in defeating Livingston 44-7 Wednesday night at Lion Stadium.
The arm of Blaysin Fernandez and legs of Devon Simmons were the catalysts of the Bulldog attack. The junior quarterback was 15-23 for 229 yards and three scores, while Simmons ran for 96 yards on 18 carries and found the end zone for four total touchdowns.
Also helping the Nederland cause was six Lion turnovers that opened the gap just before halftime and gave the Bulldogs complete control over the final two quarters.
“It definitely helped our momentum when you get turnovers and capitalize on them,” Nederland coach Monte Barrow said after the victory. “A lot of times when you get turnovers and don't, it can go the other way on you. I was proud of the fact that we recognized the sudden-change situations there and capitalized on those mistakes.”
Offensively, Nederland attempted 17 passes and had 18 rushes in the first half, something that took the Livingston coaching staff by surprise. With Simmons running for 119 yards and three touchdowns in last season’s contest, Livingston coach Brian Broussard said his defense was prepared to stop the talented runner, who had 47 yards on 10 carries in the first half.
“That was the plan, to try to not let him beat you,” Broussard said. “I thought we played well against him, but it is the missed tackles and getting driven off the ball. That offensive line is big and we don't have that kind of size on the defensive line. We fought hard on the line, but that is a program over there where the coaches have experience and they have some things established. They have good kids over there and they are well-coached.”
Barrow said his team used the pass to set up the rushing attack, a plan that was also successful for Caney Creek in the season’s first contest.
“We watch video just like everybody else does and try to get matchups that we like,” Barrow said. “We feel like we have a pretty good running back that people are going to game plan to stop. When people man up on you on the outside, you have to take advantage of that and make plays when you are one-on-one if they have the numbers in the box to stop the running game. If you can do that, maybe it keeps that safety out of there some and opens up the run.”
After a Lion three-and-out to begin the game, the Bulldogs countered with a couple of 17-yard plays to set up an eight-yard Simmons run for the first points of the night.
Livingston tied it with a five-play drive for 57 yards, culminating in a nine-yard run from quarterback Christian Mitchell. The senior quarterback also saw some time at receiver, but helped aid the only Lion scoring drive with a 40-yard pass to junior wide out Corry Scott.
Simmons punched in his second touchdown on a three-yard scamper and Payne Barrow booted a 33-yard field goal to provide a buffer. A fourth down quick kick was touched by Livingston cornerback Jamarcus Brown, leading to a turnover and another touchdown to complete the first-half scoring.
“You tell them when there is a quick kick to get off the field,” Broussard said. “Run off the field and don't worry about it. We work on that in practice and it looks like we have never done it.”
The last end zone visit of the first half was a pass hauled in by Blayne Burnett (4 catches, 95 yards, TD) from 26 yards out on third and long.
“The first half wasn't good, but if we make a few plays, it should be a one-possession game,” Broussard said of the 23-7 halftime score. “We had three illegal procedure penalties on receivers and I just don't get that. I thought the kids played hard and we played well at times defensively in the first half, but there were just mistakes all over the place. At halftime, I still felt good and I thought we were really going to play better in the second half. We had our chances in the first half.”
It would not get better for the home team. The Nederland defense controlled the second half competition. After gaining 138 yards before the band break, the Lions were limited to 69 total yards in the second half. A fake punt accounted for 20 of the 69 yards. Mitchell, arguably the top Lion offensive threat, was tossed from the game after collecting his second personal foul.
“We had No. 17 at practice every day, but we can't simulate what he can do,” Barrow said. “We knew that from last year — that he is a great athlete. We identified where he lined up, whether it was at receiver or quarterback, and made a conscious effort to try to keep him under wraps as much as possible. You're not going to shut him down the whole time, but I thought we did a great job limiting him.”
The talented senior was held to 44 rushing yards and threw for 51 yards with an interception on seven attempts.
Another 144 Bulldog yards on the ground in the second half kept the clock and offense moving. Fernandez was 5-6 for 77 yards and two touchdowns in mostly the third quarter. Simmons and Carsen Arline were each on the receiving end of the scoring tosses. Simmons would add an 11-yard jaunt to post final points with just seconds remaining in the third period.
With the short week, Nederland will next host Baytown Lee Tuesday, while the Lions travel to Lumberton to take on the Raiders.