First victory brings a sense of relief, and pride, to Lions

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

(NOTE – Each Tuesday this season, the SBJ spotlights the staff’s selection as the local “Team of the Week.”)

For seven weeks, the Booker T. Washington Lions had been fighting to get their first win of the 2022 season.

In Week 7, last Thursday night at Bossier Memorial Stadium, the Lions broke through and got that first one with a hard-fought, back-and-forth, 34-32 victory over the Bearkats – who were also fighting for their first notch in the win column.

BTW head coach Tony Reliford can see the difference that first victory can make.

“I can tell by watching them in the hallways at school,” says Reliford. “They’re a little more light-hearted. It’s definitely a difference maker.”

More than that, however, it is a relief.

“Yeah, it was back-and-forth and exciting – from a viewer’s standpoint,” says Reliford, whose Lions are now 1-6 overall and 1-3 in District 1-4A. “From a coach’s standpoint, it was really intense.

“We go up at halftime (14-12) and then come out and turn the ball over. Then we’re down by 12 points. But our guys didn’t panic. Our kids didn’t give up.”

Bossier recaptured the lead in the third quarter with a pick-six by Ja’karvis Guice and a 35-yard touchdown pass from Quintarion Scott to Jayden Goosby. When BTW got a 16-yard touchdown pass from Damion O’Neal to La’Darrius Frierson with three minutes left in the third, the Lions had gotten to within 26-20.

Two touchdown runs by Kendrick Pratt (32 and 77 yards) gave the Lions a 34-26 lead with five-and-a-half minutes left in the game.

A 19-yard touchdown run by LaBrandon Davis brought the Bearkats within two (34-32) with 3:37 remaining. The Lions held on for victory by stopping Bossier’s 2-point conversion and then running out the clock – thanks to a seven-play drive that included three first-down runs by Pratt.

Pratt finished the game with 233 yards on 32 carries with four TDs (5, 5, 32, and 77 yards) and the two difference-making 2-point conversions.

While Pratt carried the load on offense, it was a “mixture of guys” who led the Lions’ defense.

“Cedric Dennis, at linebacker, was solid,” says Reliford. “And he’s been solid for us all year. (Defensive back) Taboyous Anderson really stepped up, too. And (defensive lineman) Cardell Marston.”

The Lions have relied on a young team this season – either young in years or new to football. Pratt (a senior) is new to the running back position, Marston is a junior, Dennis and Anderson are sophomores, and O’Neal and Frierson are both freshmen.

The 2022 BTW roster includes 11 seniors, 10 juniors, 16 sophomores, and 14 freshmen.

“We’ve got one offensive lineman with experience from last year,” says Reliford. “Defensive line through linebacker, we have two guys with experience. We’ve got new guys even in our skill positions on offense.

“So there have been growing pains,” says Reliford. “It’s a process getting through it, absolutely.”

As the Lions were making their way from the field to the school buses following Thursday night’s victory, linebackers coach Floyd Davis talked about the impact Reliford has had on this team.

“He knows he has young guys,” Davis said of Reliford. “He pushes the guys hard. He motivates and loves those guys.”

And while winning games is important to a team – especially the victory that breaks a losing streak – that’s not the No. 1 priority for Reliford.

“My first goal is to make sure all these seniors graduate,” the fifth-year coach said at the pre-season gathering of Caddo Parish coaches at Independence Stadium. “Those guys have been there for four years and I feel like we owe that to them. I can’t say it’s all about wins and losses because we have struggled for the last few years.”

Still, the win over Bossier is important.

“They don’t have that hanging over their head now,” says Reliford.

Contact Harriet at sbjharriet@gmail.com