[By Josh Havard, Special to ETSN.fm]

LUFKIN -- In a game full of big plays, the John Tyler Lions made them when they needed them most.

Bryson Smith accounted for 342 yards and three touchdowns as the Lions picked up a crucial 41-38 win over the Lufkin Panthers in a key District 16-5A clash at John Outlaw Memorial Field at Abe Martin Stadium on Friday night.

With the win, John Tyler kept pace with Ennis for first place in 16-5A while also gaining the advantage over Lufkin for the top seed in the Division I playoffs.

Bryson Smith threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-20 passing and ran for 133 yards and a score. James Allen ran for 112 yards on 25 carries and Damion Miller had five receptions for 98 yards to lead a balanced John Tyler offense.

Meanwhile, the John Tyler defense made the big plays as it allowed Lufkin to score 38 points while gaining 418 yards. However the key stat of the game was the four turnovers the Lions forced, including a game-turning 93 yard fumble return by Dewayne Jones midway through the third quarter.

Lufkin was led by quarterback Kordell Rodgers, who threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-30 passing to go along with two interceptions. He also ran for 111 yards on 11 carries.

Javante Ellington also had a big night with four catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns.

It was anything but a picture perfect first half as Lufkin struggled to gain any momentum while John Tyler was hurt by several key penalties.

John Tyler made the first big play after the Panthers went three and out on their first possession. The Lions' Damion Miller blocked a punt and recovered it at the Lufkin 2.

On the next play, Martrevious Allison scored to give John Tyler the 7-0 lead.

Lufkin dropped a potential touchdown pass on the following possession before John Tyler's Kieran Freeman intercepted a pass in the end zone.

The Panthers finally got on the board on the next possession when it settled for a Rodrigo Molina 32-yard field goal, making it 7-3 late in the first quarter.

The Lions finished the first quarter with seven penalties for 55 yards.

The Panthers got some momentum early in the second quarter when Karl Chatman blocked a punt. The Panthers took advantage with Javante Ellington hauling in a 24-yard touchdown pass over the middle from Rodgers to gain the lead for the first time at 10-7.

That momentum didn't last long as John Tyler answered with a six-play, 67-yard drive with Duntayviun Gross catching a 21-yard touchdown pass from Bryson Smith to make it 14-10.

John Tyler outgained Lufkin 203-150 in the first half with Smith throwing for 103 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-11 passing.

Rodgers led Lufkin with 105 yards and a touchdown on 6-of-11 passing.

After the break, John Tyler drove the length of the field and scored on a Pierre Leonard one-yard run that made it 20-10 after a failed two-point try.

Lufkin was on the verge of narrowing that gap, driving to the John Tyler 3. However, the Lions forced a fumble and Jones returned it 93 yards for a score, making it 27-10 with 6:34 left in the third quarter.

As was the case for most of the night, Lufkin fought back with Khalil Brown scoring on a nine-yard run to make it 27-17 less than two minutes later.

The Panthers appeared to get the momentum changing play it needed late in the third quarter as it forced a fumble deep inside its own territory. Savon Fields scooped up the fumble and looked to be on his way to a score before stumbling and losing control of the ball.

John Tyler recovered the ball and scored three plays later when Smith hit Jerry Young for a 38-yard touchdown, making the score 34-17.

The Panthers bounced back with Ellington taking a short pass and sprinting 46 yards for a score to make it 34-24 early in the fourth quarter.

After a stop, the Panthers pulled within a score with Rodgers scoring on a one-yard sneak to make it 34-31 with 4:36 remaining.

John Tyler appeared to put the game away when Smith broke free for a 49-yard run with 2:46 remaining that made it 41-31.

The Panthers had one final burst with Ellington catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to narrow the gap to 41-38 with 34 seconds remaining.

However, John Tyler recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock to preserve the win.

Lufkin (3-3, 2-1) will host Lindale for homecoming. John Tyler moves to 3-3 on the season and 3-0 in district action.