# – denotes current San Antonio South Side Sports area ranking
#13 Lanier (0-5, 0-3) vs. #15 Highlands (0-4, 0-2) at Alamo Stadium, 7 p.m.
To state the obvious, one of these teams will win its first game of the 2014 season tonight. And, frankly, that would have been surprising to know six weeks ago.
Both teams have solid defenses and each has one of District 28-5A’s best backs: Highlands senior Quindon Boston and Lanier senior Joe Orta.
Highlands had been making good progress offensively, scoring 49 points in its previous two games before being blanked 20-0 by Harlandale last Friday. The Owls mustered just 105 total yards, 83 from Boston on the ground.
The passing game has been Highlands’ Achilles heel. Although John Cervantes was able to throw for 99 yards against Uvalde Sept. 5. He can be effective with short passes if the line gives him time.
De-Morriay Richardson-Jackson was a big weapon for the Owls at times last year, but he’s seen limited duty this year. If he’s healthy enough to step up his production, that will be a big boost for Highlands.
Highlands’ defense has forced seven turnovers – including five in a heart-breaking 23-20 loss to Edison two weeks ago – while the Owls have committed just four in the last three games. The turnover margin could give Highlands a lift toward its first victory.
Lanier hasn’t exactly been turnover-prone, but the Voks have lost key turnovers in two of the last three games and trail their opponents 5-3 in turnover margin.
Last Friday, in a game the Voks led until the fourth quarter and one in which they did the unthinkable, outgaining Brack 378-250. Against McCollum in its district opener, Lanier lost two fumbles that the Cowboys returned for touchdowns.
Keeping Orta and Julian Castro rolling on the ground is Lanier’s biggest priority. Orta showed that he’s back to full strength with 187 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries against the Eagles. The Voks don’t miss a thing when their power runner is on the bench, as the elusive Castro went for 131.
As with the Owls, the Voks’ passing game continues to be a work in progress. Lanier completed just two of nine throws with an interception last week.
The series began in 1972, but was interrupted in 1995 for 17 years as Highlands experienced an enrollment surge. The Owls had a 16-game winning streak when the series resumed in 2012, but Lanier has won the last two. This one, shapes up as essentially a coin flip.
Series leader (record): Highlands (20-4). 2013 score: Lanier 21, Highlands 8. 2014 favorite: Lanier.