NACOGDOCHES – The words replayed themselves in Jephaniah Lister’s mind.

“I can’t drop this ball. I can’t drop this ball.”

Everything seemed to slow down as the ball left Kewone Thomas’ hand and moved closer to Lister. Tens of thousands looked on as Longview clung to a 33-32 lead late in the fourth. The atmosphere had been rowdy all game, but now it was eerily quiet. If Lister caught it, the game was over. If he didn’t, enough time remained for a Lufkin comeback.

He braced himself for what was likely the biggest moment of his sports career to date.

He didn’t drop it.

With just 14 seconds left in the game, he was the new hero. He dashed to the Lobo sideline to greet what seemed like his entire team. The Lobos celebrated under the gleam of the stadium lights. Lister’s interception, his fourth this season, punched a ticket to the state semifinals.

“In my head I’m thinking, ‘If I catch this ball, we’re gonna win,” Lister said. “I can’t drop this ball. This is all we got. I felt like freezing up, but I couldn’t.”

Lobo coach John King had a different reaction on the sidelines as Lister continued to run after catching the ball.

“My reaction was, ‘Fall down,’” King said. “Take a knee. All he’s doing is running around with a chance to get stripped.”

Lister wasn’t stripped, to King’s delight.

To say this game carried huge implications would be an understatement. Not only would the winner advance to the state semifinals, but also it would claim bragging rights in a longstanding rivalry.

The Longview defense was up for the challenge. In addition to Lister’s interception, he also had a blocked punt late in the fourth quarter which led to a touchdown on Longview’s ensuing drive. It wasn’t just Lister, though. Ja'Vonte Writt had a first-half interception and Longview also recovered a muffed punt.

“We just leave it all to our D-Line and (defensive backs) and communicate,” Lister said.

In a game as exciting as this, it’s easy to remember one play. Particularly when that play is as spectacular as Kamden Perry’s go-ahead touchdown falling back into the end zone.

But it was more than that. Many of Longview’s scoring opportunities came as a result of special teams plays. In addition to the blocked punt, the recovered punt also led to a scoring opportunity. Even on the final drive, Keilyn Williams’ kickoff return put the Lobos in position to score.

Longview won’t want its defensive or special teams effort from Saturday to go unnoticed.

Especially not the final play.

“I thought our special teams were pretty good," King said. "I know we had some problems with the extra points and the field goal, but we blocked a punt, got a fumble on a punt, we had great kick coverage, we had great kickoff returns, and we punted the ball well. Our defense got some key stops for us and got some turnovers for us. Of course, that last one was huge.”

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