When Lambert’s football team found moments to be electrified on Friday night, they relished them, as rare they were.
The Longhorns were still looking for their first win of the season against Gainesville, and although they trailed by double digits in the first half, the game was still in reach. So when Nick Pasnoski leaped up and grabbed an interception with just a few minutes remaining in the second half and returned it to Gainesville’s 30 to give his team a much-needed scoring chance, Lambert’s sideline was fired up. The Longhorns saw their excitement vanish just one play later, though, when Gainesville grabbed a pick of its own to quickly neutralize any threat.
And that sequence wasn’t the only one of that nature – it was just that kind of night for the Longhorns, who had their chances early on but barely capitalized, ultimately seeing a competitive game slip away by the early second half, taking a 55-7 loss to fall to 0-3. As deflating as plays like that were, however, head coach Louis Daniel didn’t see reason to make any excuses.
“You've still got to execute,” he said. “We're not doing a very good job of communicating to them, obviously, and we're not playing fundamental football. If you play fundamental football and you get beat like this, you hug them and you love them and you say, ‘Keep trying.’ But we're not anywhere near what we can be. We're not even close right now and it's our job to find out what we have to do.”
The closest Lambert got to making the game close game just a few minutes before Pasnoski’s pick. Right after Gainesville quarterback Gionni Williams found a wide-open Walt Dixon for a 55-yard touchdown, Longhorns quarterback Peyton Rich tossed a short pass to Kojo Antwi, who turned the play into an 80-yard score down the sideline to make it a 20-7 game. But just as Lambert had finished celebrating, the Red Elephants scored the third combined touchdown in less than two minutes, another long Williams pass to Dixon to make it 27-7 with 6:08 left in the first half.
“We had some chances early on and we had a competitive football game and we had breakdowns,” Daniel said. “We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we're doing wrong. I don't know how to say it -- we've got to get better. We don't have a choice. We've got to look back at what we're doing, look back at how we're communicating, how we're practicing, everything.”
Lambert showed flashes of offensive productivity early, with Drew Surio putting together some decent runs. Despite that, the Longhorns couldn’t quite put together a complete drive, and late in the first quarter, Gainesville took advantage of a botched snap on a punt, scoring on a 5-yard Dez Brown touchdown run with 2:50 left in the frame. With just 5.4 seconds left in the first, Ques Borders added a 63-yard run to extend the Red Elephant lead to 14-0.
After Red Elephants’ two quick scores to Dixon, Williams added another touchdown pass to make it 34-7 right before the half. Lambert’s defense struggled late, allowing two straight scoring drives to start the second. The Longhorns’ offense struggled to move and didn’t score for the rest of the game.
“In the second half, they rolled on us a little bit, but if you take the first half, it's the story of our first three games,” Daniel said. “There's probably 12 touchdowns -- and it's horrible to say that out loud -- of 30, 40 yards or more. When that happens, there's always a monumental breakdown somewhere.”
But with plenty of season left, there’s still time to correct everything that’s been plaguing the Longhorns for their first three games. The key is figuring out how.
“We have some good football players and we have an opportunity,” Daniel said. “I believe in this team beyond a shadow of a doubt. We just have to find the buttons to push to educate and to teach them. That's what we've got to do.”