By WES FERGUSON
ELGIN — For seven minutes on Friday night, the Lehman Lobos caught a glimpse of their football potential.
Everything clicked when quarterback Josh Guerrero took control of the Lehman offense four minutes into the third quarter against the Elgin Wildcats. He willed the Lobos down the field, spreading the ball around to Tyler Dodero, Kelton Powell and Brandon Hamilton, who saved the drive at one point with a leaping grab on third down at midfield.
“We were all connecting and on the same page. The tempo was really high,” Guerrero said. “That’s what we can do. We just have to go out there and do it every time.”
Pint-sized running back Paul Brown contributed as well, finding creases in the line of scrimmage for bursts of 18 and 13 yards. Now inside the red zone for the first time of the evening, Guerrero faked a handoff to Brown and dodged several Wildcat defenders for a gain to the 5-yard line.
Two plays later, Guerrero floated a spiral to the waiting arms of Dodero deep in the end zone. It was the culmination of a 75-yard drive and the finest moment in an otherwise dismal outing for the Lobos, a 48-8 defeat.
“You saw a flash of offense that shows what we’re capable of,” head coach Todd Raymond said. “When we’re all functioning appropriately and not shooting ourselves in the foot, that’s what we can do. The coaches have seen it. We knew it’s there, and the kids are working incredibly hard. We just seem to put ourselves in situations that we can’t get out of. It’s frustrating for them because the effort’s there. We’ve got to slowly but surely get better.”
Lehman is counting on its more experienced defense to cover for the younger offense, which is still learning how to handle Raymond’s new spread scheme. But the defense also struggled against the Wildcats and their junior quarterback, Te’Rel Simmons. Simmons lit up the Lobos for 170 yards passing and 124 yards rushing. He ran for a touchdown and threw for three more, including a pair to his twin brother Da’Trean.
“That was a little frustrating tonight,” Raymond said of Lehman’s defensive performance.
The Lobos were grappling with a depleted defensive line, which lost Moises Bustamante for the season last week with a knee injury. Tackle Kris Hernandez missed the second half after becoming dehydrated, a problem that forced him out of last week’s season opener.
“We’re having to rebuild the defensive line,” said linebacker Nick Tamez. “It’s kind of like starting over on the front.”
The chemistry in the defensive secondary was also a little suspect, after Lehman’s coaches tried to bolster the unit this week by moving offensive starter Bradley Braxton to safety, the position he played last year. Conner Baird also shifted from safety to cornerback across from Kyron Morrissette. It might pay dividends down the road, but the abrupt changes seemed to throw the Lobos for a loop.
“As coaches we didn’t get them ready, because you could see it in our kids’ eyes,” Raymond said. “They were thinking too much, and it took away their natural ability to just play.”
On offense, Brown led the Lobos’ rushing attack with 77 yards on 18 carries. Guerrero completed 11 of 20 passes for 65 yards. He also threw two interceptions.
Another bright spot for the Lobos was the appearance of former All-District offensive lineman Kenny Higgins, who played about a dozen snaps at guard in his first action since injuring his knee in the spring. Raymond said Higgins probably won’t start against Anderson next Friday, but he will see increased playing time.
“He’s a team leader,” Raymond said. “The kids have confidence in him. We need more leadership out there because we’re so young, especially offensively.”
The Wildcats improved to 2-0 with the win, while Lehman fell to 0-2.
The Lobos play Class 5A Anderson next Friday in their final pre-district game. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at House Park. Raymond did not indicate that Anderson would be any easier competition than Elgin or the previous week’s opponent, Cedar Ridge.
“We’re kind of getting thrown to the wolves with a pretty tough schedule, which is a good thing,” he said. “You want to compete against quality people.”