By Ken Chrzanowski
For the Forsyth County News
DULUTH —Lambert used its depth to pull away from Duluth on Friday, outmatching the Wildcats in the second half to win 26-10 and open the season 4-0 for the fourth time in school history and the first time since 2012.
“We knew coming in that (Lambert) were a well-coached and deep football team,” Duluth head coach Cam Jones said. “Our defense played great. They made two big stops but late in the game they were worn down on this humid night. The third component of this game is special teams and we didn’t execute at all in that area.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Lambert (4-0) received the first break of the game when Duluth muffed a punt return and Lambert’s Jack Wise recovered the ball on the Wildcats’ 14-yard line. The Longhorns drove to the 1-yard line, where the Longhorns faced a fourth-and-goal. Lambert coach Tommy Watson elected to try a field goal, but the 18 yard attempt by Max Chapa Ponce was no good.
Duluth (1-1) seized on the momentum of the stop and strung together an 11-play drive that moved the Wildcats to the Lambert 7-yard line. However, the drive stalled there and Sahil Punwani connected on a 24-yard field goal to put the hosts up 3-0 with 3:27 left in the half.
The Duluth defense then held Lambert to a three-and-out. However, another Duluth muff on a punt return was recovered by Longhorns senior Darren Guy on the Wildcats’ 39. Lambert quarterback Ashton Smith hit Kojo Antwi with a hitch pattern and Antwi rambled for a 20-yard gain. Smith then ran for 15 more yards on a draw to the 4-yard line. After a run netted no gain, Smith connected with Braden Bamburowski on a sliding reception in the end zone. Alex Mitchell converted the extra point and Lambert held a 7-3 lead heading into halftime.
Duluth’s Lonnie Ratliff IV was 8-for-14 passing in the first half for 70 yards, while Nyle Ervin led the rushing attack with 49 yards.
The second half started with promise for Duluth as on its first play from scrimmage Ratliff IV hit Jaiden Jones with a short pass and Jones raced 74 yards for the touchdown. Punwani’s extra point gave Duluth a 10-7 lead only 20 seconds into the third quarter.
The Wildcats held the Longhorns to a three-and-out, but for the third time on the evening Duluth failed to catch the punt cleanly, giving Lambert new life. Starting on the Duluth 29-yard line, the drive resulted in a Mitchell 20-yard field goal to tie the game 10-10.
Another special teams error gave Lambert an opportunity to score the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter. Duluth failed to gain a first down deep in its territory and Ratliff IV attempted a punt. However the ball went off the side of his foot and was caught and returned to the Wildcats 14. On the next play, Robert Riddle raced around the defense and scored untouched.
With a 17-10 lead, Duluth attempted to drive but consecutive sacks of Ratliff IV ended the threat. Lambert iced the game with another connection from Smith to Bamburowski, this time from 21 yards and added a late safety by Thomas Tattersal and Jake Johnson to post the winning margin.