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Trojans lose but remain first in our hearts

By Walter Geiger At the precipice of greatness and with what seemed to be the entire populations of their hometowns in the stands at the Georgia Dome boisterously backing them, the Lamar County Trojans fought valiantly but lost 14-7 to the Lovett Lions Saturday in the GHSA Class AA state championship game. The spirit on the Lamar side of the Dome was off the chain. Jeff Davis Ledger publisher Tommy Purser of Hazlehurst, a longtime follower of high school football and Dome veteran, was on the sidelines and said Lamar brought the biggest crowd of fans to the state finals. Adding to the din raised by the LC faithful were the voices of another 2,500 Griffin High fans who arrived early, rooted for the Trojans and then watched their team roar to the AAAA state title with a 56-35 win over Carrolton, the highest scoring state final game in Georgia history. Arriving undefeated on the big stage and playing for all the marbles for the first time in school history, the Trojans uncharacteristically flinched under the glare of the spotlights. ’We call it Domeitis. Generally, after five minutes, teams get over it and realize it is just another game. Lamar didn’t overcome it. They didn’t play very well,’ noted Tommy Palmer in the pressbox after the game. Palmer, who is from Statesboro, is a longtime high school sportscaster and host of the Georgia high school scoreboard show on Friday nights during the season. Lovett’s victory was not a fluke. Lions head coach Mike Muschamp had an aggressive plan and pressed it. His team won the toss but deferred, kicking off to the Trojans. Their star, Grant Haley, a Vanderbilt commit and an Olympic development class soccer player, executed a perfect, successful onside kick on the opening kickoff and threw the Trojan staff off their marks. The Lions did not score as a result but ran four and a half minutes ‘“ minutes during which Lamar should have held the ball ‘“ off the clock then punted. The ball was downed on the Lamar seven and field position was changed for most of the first half. The Trojans knocked out two first downs but punted. Lovett got the ball, earned two first downs then again punted Lamar to their 24. On first down, Lamar had to call a timeout as it had only 10 players on the field. The next play saw Lamar called for a false start. The next was backed up due to an illegal substitution call on the Trojans for having 12 on the turf. After those three shots to its own foot, Lamar had to punt. Tyler Scandrett shanked the kick and Lovett got the ball near midfield as the second quarter dawned. The first had passed with Lamar’s normally high-powered offense having had few shots ‘“ its stars seeing the field primarily on defense. The Lions took advantage of the gift of good field position. They drove, converted a third and two deep in Lamar territory and then quarterback Willie Candler hit Jack Mc-Granahan with an eightyard touchdown pass. The PAT was good and the Lions led 7-0. The Trojans seemed ignited by playing from behind. They started on their 35 but another, senseless, Domeitis-induced illegal substitution call for having 12 players on the field backed them up. Still, they mounted a march. Lawrence Austin ripped off a pounding, 27-yard run. Juan Tucker got five yards then Lance Austin shook loose for another big gainer. He got two more then his twin brother bulled for another 10. With the ball at just outside the Lions’ 11-yard line, Quentin Frazer went in untouched, running wide left ‘“ one of the few times the Trojans’ speed burners got outside successfully. Scandrett’s PAT tied the game but his team would never see the end zone again. Lovett again drove down the field, its offensive line having its way with the Trojan defensive front. Lovett missed a field goal late in the half when its kicker raised his head and shanked a chip shot hard to his left. As the first half came to a close, Lovett had held the ball for 14:24 and gained 168 yards. Lamar held the ball for only 9:36 and gained but 113 yards. The second half would be worse. The Lions began their first possession at their own 20. They knocked out three first downs before Haley took a pitch, headed left, cut back hard against the grain of the Lamar defense and went 41 yards untouched for what would be the game-winning TD at the 8:09 mark of the third period. Lamar got the ball on their own 27 after the ensuing kick and quickly went three and out. The Trojan defense stiffened and, bolstered by two penalties on the Lions, forced a punt. Starting at their 21, Lamar marched to the 38 but yet another illegal substitution call marred the offensive effort. Scandrett punted from Lamar’s 48 at the 1:37 mark of the third period. The Trojans needed a stop but Lovett knocked out four first downs ‘“ the last aided by a questionable face mask call on Lance Austin. He rebounded with a big stop which was followed up by another by Alex Gardner. Lovett punted to the Lamar 22 but the clock was now a factor. The Lions had once again run precious ticks off the clock and Lamar had only six minutes and 57 seconds with which to work. Lawrence Austin punched out a big run which was negated by a critical holding call. Lance Austin answered with a gallop to the 44. He then got four more to the 49. On third and five, Lance Austin hit Qua Searcy on a tunnel screen which the Lions sniffed out and snuffed. On fourth and three at midfield with four minutes left, Trojan coach Franklin Stephens elected to punt ‘“ a decision he would likely rethink in hindsight. Scandrett punted the Lions to their own four. Needing a three and out, Lamar got blown off the ball, giving up three first downs which cost them precious timeouts. They finally stopped the Lions but failed on a jailbreak attempt to block the punt and got the ball on their own 36 with but 18 seconds left. A hook and lateral play got some yardage but the final play of the game, more trickeration, ended with Searcy being slammed unceremoniously to the turf on a wide receiver pass attempt and the game was over’“ a once in school history opportunity parried by a well prepared opponent. There was exultation on the Lovett sideline but only tears for the Trojans and their faithful. Still, it was the best season in Lamar history. The trip to the Dome was a long time coming. With the loss of three D1 players, that long road could lie before the program once again. The title game stats left no doubt the extent to which effort fueled by strong will was the one thing that kept the Trojans in the game against what was a superior team much more well-prepared for the big game on the big stage. Lovett had 19 first downs to Lamar’s 10. The Lions held a 276-156 edge in rushing yards and a 77-26 advantage throwing the ball. Unable to get to the edge consistently, the Trojan Wing T attack enjoyed only spasmodic success. Lance Austin had but 54 yards on 10 carries. He completed four of five passes but they garnered just 26 yards. Lawrence Austin had 73 yards on nine carries. Juan Tucker got 25 yards on seven carries and Frazer carried twice for 14 yards and the only title game TD in school history. After the game, Stephens took the heat. ’I didn’t have you guys ready to play and I didn’t have our coaches ready to coach. That’s on me,’ he told a sobbing assemblage gathered on the turf of the Georgia Dome the program had waited generations to reach.

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