Tyler Lee’s Kurt Traylor heard how important the Rose City Rivalry was to the city of Tyler and its football teams, and how charged the atmosphere was for everyone involved.
But hearing about it and experiencing it are two totally different things.
“This is a big game; I didn’t know how big a game it was until I showed up Friday,” said Traylor, who just completed his first season at Lee. “I’ve played in five state championships and this had the feeling of all five of them - the physicality, the emotions, the ups and downs the highs and lows; it had it all.”
Tyler Lee held off a second-half comeback by John Tyler to win 34-30 Friday at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
Lee senior quarterback Chance Amie was named MVP as part of the Great American Rivalries series, which also presented a trophy to Traylor and his team.
Both Lee and JT were already eliminated from playoff contention before Friday’s kickoff. The win gave Lee the city championship, bragging rights for a year and six wins for the first time since 2009.
“I wanted it so bad for those seniors; those kids who stuck with me and showed up every day,” Traylor said. “I kept telling them they are going to be the forefathers of this foundation; of this culture that we are changing. It came to light. The reality of what we’ve been talking about, to keep pounding the stone. I was so proud of them.”
BIG RUNS AND HUGE DEFENSIVE STOPS
When Amie took the snap on the second play of the game near midfield and began scrambling back to his 30, Traylor feared the worst. Instead, Amie provided one of the plays of the season.
In going backwards, he was able to create enough space to go around the edge toward the John Tyler sideline. Instead of accepting the first-down run and going out of bounds, Amie did his best Reggie Bush impersonation and came to a stop before tight-roping the sideline and cutting back all the way to the right into open field and away from JT tacklers all the way for a 52-yard touchdown.
“That was amazing, it really was,” Traylor said. “It was one of those deals where you were going, ‘Oh no!’ and then you went ‘Oh yeah!’ I mean he just outran everybody, out-efforted everybody. It was one of the most amazing runs. I haven’t tracked it yet, but he probably ran 150 yards on that one play.”
That TD gave Lee a 7-0 lead, but the momentum push was not finished. When JT got the ball, senior Lanthony Simmons guessed right on the snap count and nearly took the ball before JT’s quarterback received it. Instead, he settled for causing a fumble that was recovered by senior Nathan Niedrauer.
On Lee’s first play after the turnover, junior Ladarius Wickware scored on a 37-yard touchdown.
“I think that (JT) was really surprised that we came out with that intensity,” Traylor said. “They were focused on this game. It’s amazing when JT week comes up, you see different kids and different energy.”
The Red Raiders led 27-9 at halftime, but that advantage disappeared quickly early in the third quarter as a determined JT offense, led by defensive superstar Tre Allison, used a trick play in which Allison passed for one touchdown and used Allison in the Wildcat for a touchdown and two-point conversion.
The result was the score now 27-24 and Lee needing to provide a response.
In one play, Amie did. Seconds after Allison’s touchdown and two-point conversion, the Lee quarterback took the snap on a run-pass option and kept it up the middle for a 75-yard touchdown.
“We had to break their momentum quick; and that is what I was telling (our coaches) in the headphones, that we needed to establish something,” Traylor said of Amie’s play. “JT came out and ditched their whole defensive plan and came out with a whole new plan (in the second half), so we had to adapt.
“They weren’t going to let you run the ball on them (anymore). It was either going to be a big play, or they were going to hit you in the mouth. Chance came out and broke their momentum a little bit with that long run.”
The defense held the fort enough after that against wave after wave of John Tyler attack before producing an incompletion on fourth down to get the ball back and Amie converting a first down to run out the clock for a four-point win.
THE FUTURE STARTS NOW
On Monday afternoon after equipment was turned in, the preparations for the 2018 season already was in motion with the returning players in the weight room.
Traylor and his staff did not have an opportunity to work with the Red Raiders I the spring because he was hired after Lee’s spring game. Because Lee held spring practices, it lost a week in August of two-a-day practices.
“We worked so hard as a staff to make this year successful for the seniors,” Traylor said. “I want to be an elite program. I know what it takes to be an elite program; I know how hard it is. Our coaches coached at elite programs. That’s what’s all about.”
The Red Raiders will have to replace most of its defense. Leading tacklers Rhett Parker, Nathan Niedrauer, Lanthony Simmons, and two-way grinder Marquis Gray all will receive their diplomas in May.
On offense, Lee returns almost everyone except for Amie, who announced his intention to graduate early and begin his collegiate career at the University of Houston.
“The foundation that we are going to set for next season starts today,” Traylor said. “I think every culture is set during the offseason. When you have a good offseason, you get “program kids” who (surprise you). Program kids make an elite program. The offensive linemen, the defensive linemen; the ones whose names are not in the paper. We’ve got elite athletes. We need more program kids.
“We need more depth at that area, especially on defense. And offensive line wise, we need depth at that too. That is what we’re looking for during the offseason. Finding those little pieces that fit. My coaching staff is so good, we’ll find the right pieces.”