For two months, new Tyler Lee head football coach Kurt Traylor impressed upon his new players not to be afraid of making mistakes as long as the effort was there in every play and every way.
That was on display Friday in Marshall. The Red Raiders offense was stuck in neutral for most of the first half, but Traylor said the effort level never decreased and Robert E. Lee was able to go on the road to Maverick Stadium and bring back a 29-27 win in its season opener against Marshall.
“It wasn’t pretty and the execution (was spotty),” Traylor said. “But it was execution that we expected because we hadn’t played that much football. We practice a bunch of football, but when you get out there under the lights, it’s a whole different deal.
“We told them to find a way to get it done and they did. We played hard and that’s what I am proud of. The first half, the execution was bad, but man we played hard. In the second half, execution got better, and we still played hard, which is what I am proud of.”
Lee did not register a first down until the 1:25 mark of the first quarter when senior quarterback Chance Amie scrambled out of a potential sack at his own 3 for a 10-yard run.
The Red Raiders trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, and it could’ve been worse if not for Lee’s defense, which stymied Marshall after the Mavericks received a short punt to begin a drive at the Lee 30.
“We script our first six plays and we run them every day, and our first six plays were probably the ugliest we had,” Traylor said. “We put our defense in some bad situations and they balled out.”
Lee got going in the second quarter with Ladarius Wickware scoring on a 37-yard run and Amie connecting with Zaylon Walker for a 19-yard TD pass on a slant against single coverage.
It made the score 14-13, but instead of tying the game with an extra point, Traylor and the Red Raiders went for 2. Lanthony Simmons went into the end zone and REL had its first lead of the game, 15-14.
“I am going to roll the dice and if it’s there, I’m doing it,” Traylor said of the two-point conversion call. “We could’ve done if a few more times, too.”
The lead looked to be short-lived as Marshall used a 32-yard run from Tahj Washington to help set up first-and-goal at Lee’s 6. It eventually became third-and-goal at the 2 with REL stopping Marshall quarterback Odarius Sellers for a 1-yard gain. That made it fourth-and-goal from the 1 with a little over a minute remaining in the half.
Sellers had already scored once on a quarterback sneak and lined up under center preparing to re-establish the Mavericks’ lead.
Lee senior defensive lineman Nathan Niedrauer was one of several Red Raiders who met him immediately and pushed Sellers back for no gain and a turnover on downs.
“That was humongous. If they punch that in (Marshall has the momentum back),” Traylor said. “Every time Marshall ran under center, it was going to be a quarterback sneak. Everybody in the house knew that. The first time they got us, but the second time, our coaches did a great job adjusting to it.”
Lee’s defense continued to pummel Marshall in the third quarter. Matt Taylor picked off Sellers on its first drive. After REL scored to make it 22-14 on a 40-yard touchdown from Zaylon Walker, who caught it one-handed and scored, the defense nearly forced a fumble at the Marshall 1. The ball squirmed out of the Lee lineman’s hands and into the end zone for a touchback.
Even with new life, Marshall could not register a first down against the Red Raiders. It was part of three-straight three-and-outs forced by Lee.
The Red Raiders added seven more points to their lead early in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard scoring run from Wickware. The 29-14 lead with 7:54 remaining proved to be just enough to survive Marshall’s last-minute comeback.
Marshall pulled to within 29-27 on two touchdown runs by Rodarius Smith, the second one coming with eight seconds remaining.
The Mavericks tried an onside kick, but Amie recovered for Lee to secure the victory.
Lee’s win snapped an eight-game losing streak from last season and gave the Red Raiders a win in their season opener for the second year in a row.
Next up is Game 2 against Corsicana as part of the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Football Classic. Kickoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at CTMF Rose Stadium.
“You take the momentum into Saturday’s game and grow off of that,” Traylor said. “The kids have more confidence about themselves now. We are just going to keep staying positive. We have so much room to grow and potential to grow, and the kids see it, too. They know how much better than can get and we know how much better than can get.”