Everything that Lambert football overcame during the regular season —youth on offense, injuries on defense, disappointing losses — resurfaced in a 35-16 defeat Friday to visiting Brookwood in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The Longhorns fumbled eight times, including four their lost, that stalled all offensive rhythm built from a promising first quarter.
Injuries on defense forced the Longhorns to juggle personnel in the second half, diminishing the unit’s effectiveness against Brookwood sophomore running back Jesse Brown, who rushed for 234 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries, including 195 yards and three scores in the second half.
The result was a loss that left Lambert at 6-5 and still seeking the program’s first playoff victory. Brookwood (6-5) advances to play No. 3-ranked Norcross, a 28-0 winner over Etowah, in the second round.
"Injuries happen in football," Lambert coach Sid Maxwell said. "When that happens, you just hope you can hold it together. They got some big plays because we just didn’t get lined up correctly at times."
Lambert was outgained 332-262 in total offense. Tucker Maxwell led the Longhorns in rushing with 49 yards on 13 carries and was 8 of 17 passing for 67 yards and a touchdown.
Senior quarterback Hayden McLeod entered the game in the fourth quarter and was 2 of 5 passing for 38 yards and a touchdown. Houston Earnest had four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Miller and Jordyn Jean-Felix each had an interception.
Lambert came out looking like the efficient, methodical team it transformed into over the regular season’s final six games. It took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards on 14 plays, highlighted by a 15-yard catch on fourth-and-six by senior tight end Chris Laye and capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tucker Maxwell to Earnest to take an early 7-0 lead.
Jean-Felix forced a Brookwood fumble on the ensuing kickoff that Adison Schimmelpfennig recovered, the Longhorns held the Broncos to a three-and-out on their next possession and added a 32-yard field goal by Tanner Hall to go up 10-0 with 10.8 seconds left in the first quarter.
Then it all fell apart for Lambert.
After the teams traded fumbles in the second quarter, Lambert fumbled again, giving Brookwood the ball at the Longhorns’ 37.
After two short runs and an incomplete pass, Broncos receiver Mike Allen got wide open on a play action play and hauled in a 33-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Joey McLane to make it 10-7 with 7:11 left in the half.
Lambert’s next drive stalled after a Longhorns penalty and fumble. Lambert was forced to punt, but pressure from Brookwood forced an awkward kick that netted just 4 yards and gave the Broncos the ball at the Longhorn’s 31.
Four plays later, Brown scored his first touchdown from 3 yards out to give Brookwood a 14-10 lead with 1:20 left in the half.
The Longhorns fumbled four times in the second quarter alone.
"I think it started to get to us a little bit," Jean-Felix said, "but we’ve got to overcome that, try to come back."
Except Brown made a comeback improbable. He ripped off a touchdown runs of 56 and 49 yards in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, to put Brookwood up 28-10 with 7:30 left in the game.
When Lambert answered two possessions later, converting a recovered fumble by Jean-Felix into a 9-yard touchdown pass by McLeod to Laye to pull within 28-16 with 3:07 left in the game, Brown struck again. On third-and-nine, Brown went off tackle, shed two Lambert defenders and ran 55 yards for his final touchdown.
"He’s very good," Jean-Felix said. "We played really good in the first half, and the second half we couldn’t get lined up. There was so much noise going on. The band’s playing. No one could hear the calls. It was tough."
Over its last six regular season games, Lambert slowly transformed into a solid football team.
It overcame a lopsided loss (27-10 to Etowah), disappointing loss (16-12 to Northview), loss to a bitter rival (21-14 to South Forsyth) and an encouraging loss (14-12 to Alpharetta).
It overcame youth on offense, with several underclassmen at skill positions, and injuries on defense to make the playoffs and host the second first round game in the program’s brief history.
"It’s been a great year," Sid Maxwell said. "It’s definitely something to build on for a young program. For the first time here, it’s a football team that actually got better by the end of the season."