When the Lambert Longhorns jogged on to the field in front of their home fans on Friday, they knew the daunting task that lay before them. No. 3 seeded Collins Hill, battle tested in their region and brimming with collegiate talent, stood between the Longhorns prolonging their successful 2015 campaign.
In their fifth playoff appearance and their third consecutive season hosting a postseason bout, the Longhorns were unable to change their fortunes, falling to the Eagles by a score of 35-13.
Lambert (8-3) gave up 28 unanswered points in the first half and found themselves in a hole that they simply couldn’t surmount. The Longhorns struggled to find continuity on both sides of the ball and were unable to make the Eagles accountable when they made mistakes.
“We came a little shell shocked,” Lambert coach Louis Daniel said. “If you give a team like that any room to work with, they’re going to take it. We told our kids that, no matter what, we wanted to see them compete in the second half. And they did, they answered that, and I think we’re closing the gap.”
Collins Hill (6-5) looked shaky in the opening minutes of the game, committing 25 yards worth of penalties on three consecutive plays. But the Eagles quickly shook off their early mistakes and swiftly drove down the field behind big armed quarterback Drew Dinsmore (20 of 34, 297 yards, 3 TD), who connected with receiver Justin Macauley on a 31-yard touchdown pass down the far sideline, putting the Eagles up 7-0 in the first quarter.
The Longhorns were unable to sustain any kind of meaningful success with their running game, in part due to the daunting number of injuries the running back core has faced this season. Brian Wright (knee), Ken Dicks (hand), and Harrison Pomfret (shoulder) all were ruled out of the contest before kickoff. Will Kholins (21 carries, 87 yards) chipped away at the Eagles defense but rarely found enough space to gain substantial yardage.
Collins Hill rusher Jeremy Lewis (10 carries, 110 yards, 2 TD) gave the Eagles enough balance to be truly dangerous in both facets of their offensive attack. The aerial barrage continued throughout the first half as Dinsmore found little resistance from the Longhorn secondary. The Eagles passer doubled his team’s first quarter lead to 14-0 after hitting receiver Braxton Curry on a 12-yard fade route in the corner of the end zone.
Lambert had a chance to capitalize on an Eagles mistake after Collins Hill botched a punt snap and gave the Longhorns possession inside enemy territory. But penalties and mistakes, including a dropped ball in the end zone on fourth down, abruptly ended the drive and foiled Lambert’s best chance to keep the game close.
After the Lambert turnover on downs, it only took Dinsmore and the Eagles offense three plays to blaze 75 yards down the field and set up a 17 yard touchdown scamper by Lewis. Later in the second, Dinsmore found the end zone for his third passing touchdown, pushing the lead to 28-0 for Collins Hill as the game reached the half.
“We outscored them in the second half,” Lambert senior lineman Sean Bailey said. “But you have to play four quarters and we obviously didn’t do that. I thought we finished with a good fight.”
Lambert was able break on to the scoreboard after a second Dinsmore fumble put the offense in prime position. Bobby Gabriel broke the plane of the goal line on a 1-yard sneak and made the score 28-6 after a missed point after attempt.
However, Collins Hill fired back immediately, recovering a failed onside kick inside Lambert territory and setting up Lewis for a 43-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive, reasserting the Eagles lead by a score of 35-6 and dashing any hopes of a late run for the Longhorns.
After the game, both players and coaches for Lambert reflected on the 2015 season as a whole. Bailey, who will be playing football on Saturdays for the University of Cincinnati, summarized the ups and downs of his high school career.
“We set a lot of goals, and came up short on two of them,” he said. “We made it to the playoffs every season that my class got significant playing time. We really came together as a family and tried to do the best we could.”
After spending time congratulating his seniors on the field, Coach Daniels alluded to the future of Lambert football.
“We’ve come a long way (since 2009) and the talent here has changed drastically over the past seven years,” he said. “Rome wasn’t built overnight, you have to keep chipping away.”