LISBON – Now, it’s their turn.
The current Lisbon football players have picked up where their state championship predecessors finished.
The Class A eighth-ranked Lions have continued the domination of district foes, but face their toughest test of the season, travelling to Lone Tree on Friday night with the winner claiming the A District 5 championship.
Lisbon (7-1, 6-0) has won seven straight games. The performance has been a mild surprise given the number of graduates on last year’s A state champion team that went 14-0.
“Everyone kept saying you’re losing 14 seniors how do you feel about that,” Lisbon senior Trevor Moore said. “We felt we had another strong team coming back. We have a tough junior and sophomore class, and a couple of freshmen are playing, too.”
Although this year’s squad is young – only six seniors listed on the roster – and lack experience as far as returning starters, the Lions benefitted from lopsided wins a year ago.
Many of the current members reached the field for quality minutes, blowing out opponents. They also developed while facing the starters daily.
“We got a lot of kids in last year,” Lisbon Coach Kent Allison said. “A lot of these kids practiced against seniors last year.
“Those kids not only got to play in games, but they practiced. Instead of being done at Week 9, we played five additional games, that means more practices for them. They got to play this year as young kids, so they have a lot of games under their belt.”
Moore can attest to the impact of playing time as an underclassman. He played as a freshman, subbing for older teammates and even getting starts. Moore made a big leap into his sophomore season. He added the experience and trips to the UNI-Dome carried over.
“It helps them out a lot,” Moore said. “It boosts their confidence.”
Confidence is not a problem for a team that outscored foes 381-63 this year, including an average margin of victory of 57.7-2.5 in the first six district games. Four of those contests were shutouts with no one in the district has managed more than one touchdown.
The Lions has stifled opposing offenses, recording 92 tackles for loss and 22 sacks. Hunter Caspers leads the Lions with 76 tackles with nine for a loss. Alex Dean and Logan Rickard have 11 and 10 tackles for loss, respectively.
“I love defense,” said Rickard, who leads the team with seven sacks. “It’s something you have to hang your hat on every year. It’s key to the game.”
Even though defense is an emphasis in the Lions program, Allison said success is a product of other things.
“I like the word balance,” said Allison, noting the team works on special teams regularly. “I also like the word chemistry. They really pull in the same direction.”
The offense has done its share to create balance, scoring at least 35 points in each of the last six games. The Lions tallied 28 or more in each victory, being held to seven in a season-opening loss to 1A’s West Branch.
Is it more important to rack up the points or score shutouts?
“That zero is a big thing,” Rickard said. “I know we had one game where we let them score late in the game and we were bummed about it.”
Allison said the team has undergone a change, trying to match the skills of the athletes. They have switched from running the I to the veer set.
“Last year, we were power and this year we’re option,” Allison said. “Who knows what we’ll do next year.”
Rickard has been a big contributor, taking over at quarterback for standout Ben Knake, who graduated after last year. He has 544 passing yards with 11 touchdowns. Rickard also leads the Lions with 657 rushing yards and 14 TDs.
Allison said the offense runs the option and tries to hit the long pass. Rickard has developed into a dual threat.
“He’s worked real hard the last year,” Allison said. “He’s a natural runner. He spent a lot of time this summer.”
Rickard and the Lions will need to be on top of their game Friday against Lone Tree (6-2, 6-0). Lisbon has won three straight against Lone Tree, including a 20-7 win in the state quarterfinals last year. Moore broke out with a 163-yard, two-touchdown performance after injuries knocked out two of their top offensive players.
“He really ran hard,” Allison said. “That was his highlight from last year.”
The Lions expect a tough battle against an experienced team celebrating senior night. Rickard said Lone Tree has a strong offense and Allison mentioned the defense pressures the quarterback. The two programs have developed a strong rivalry recently.
“Lone Tree is a big deal for us,” Rickard said. “We really like playing them. They are good competition and it’s a lot of fun.”
Lisbon is motivated by a chance to make school history. The Lions are going for a second straight district title for the first time in school history, according to Moore.
“The one thing going for us is we want that district title again, because it’s never been done (at Lisbon),” he said. “That’s the main thing our whole team wants right now.”