ALPHARETTA -- Lambert was 24 minutes of football away from its first region title, but by the time the second half ended the team felt very far from it.
Milton trailed 17-0 at halftime, but used stifling defense and a jilted running attack to storm back and beat the Longhorns 20-17 Friday night.
The Eagles (4-5, 2-2 Region 5-7A), playing for their playoff lives, out-gained Lambert (5-4, 3-1) 264-54 in the second half, exposing the deficiencies of the Longhorns' offense that were apparent last week. Milton quarterback Jordan Yates scored the game's last two touchdowns from 18 and 44 yards – the latter gave the Eagles the lead with 1:51 to play – and totaled 160 yards on the ground despite gaining just six yards in the first half.
Yates had 21 of Milton's 41 carries, with many going for short or negative yardage in the first half when the Eagles' offense looked as hapless as Lambert's. Somehow the senior had no trouble in the second half.
"We got sloppy. Our gap control fell apart in the second half," Lambert head coach Louis Daniel said.
Lambert's offense, which finished with just 132 yards and one yard rushing, threatened to take the lead back in the final minute when Richie Kenney connected with Brian Wright for a 19-yard gain on fourth and 5 to put Lambert on the scoring side of the field, but the Longhorns turned over on downs four plays later.
Lambert's difficulty on offense was a theme of the first half as well, despite the score. The Longhorns' two touchdowns came on an 80-yard pass from Kenney to Tyler Gillis on the third play of the game and a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown from Noah Beck with 7:45 to go in the second quarter.
The struggles go back to last week's 17-7 win over West Forsyth, where Lambert had just 106 yards but won thanks to short scores and nine team sacks. Milton's run-heavy attack didn't offer the same opportunities for Lambert to get after the passer, and the offense's propensity for huge scoring strikes from earlier in the season fizzled.
"We just aren't executing right now," Daniel said. "The game plan is there, our coaches are doing a great job, we just need to get back to making the plays on the field. I don't know if we were totally focused for this game, but as a head coach that's on me. These are teenage boys. We've got to get back to the drawing board because we have to take care of business on Friday."
Lambert's Bryce Christensen knocked through a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter, while Milton's Nick Aguello made two second half kicks from 23 and 34 yards out.
Lambert now has to win against Forsyth Central to earn its first region title in football since playing its first varsity season in 2010. The good news is that Central has been outscored 83-0 in its last two games against Milton and South Forsyth. Lambert owns a tiebreaker over both South and West, and because the War Eagles and Wolverines – both 3-1 in region – face each other in the season finale there won't be a chance for a three-way tie. But, if Lambert were to lose to Central in a monumental upset, the title would go to the winner of West-South.