By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Football: Lambert drops heartbreaker to North Gwinnett in 2nd round
11232022 LAMBERT FB
Lambert's Elijah Castillo attempts to tackle a North Gwinnett ballcarrier during a Class 7A state playoff game Friday at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium in Suwanee. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)

Lambert looked completely overwhelmed in the opening stages of its Class 7A state playoff matchup Friday at North Gwinnett.

Barely five minutes into the second-round contest, the Longhorns faced a 16-0 deficit.

It appeared more likely that Lambert would get run off the field by its Suwanee neighbor than get back into the game. But the Longhorns slowly chipped away against the Bulldogs, eventually taking the lead in the third quarter.

11232022 LAMBERT FB 2
Lambert's Christian Smith scores his first of three touchdowns during a Class 7A state playoff game Friday at North Gwinnett. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)

However, Lambert couldn't stop the North Gwinnett rushing attack, and that proved to be the difference in a 38-35 season-ending loss for the Longhorns.

“You’ve got to admire the heart of these kids,” said Lambert head coach Marc Beach, who recorded the program's best-ever record (10-2) in his debut season. “We had a bunch of calls not go our way. We got behind 16-0, and that nothing to do with the calls. But there were definitely some calls that need to be looked at.

“We got down 16-0, and we could have easily just folded. I just told them we had to settle down and relax. We battled our butts off, got back in it, got the lead and gave ourselves a chance. They never quit. That’s the way it’s been all season. They’ve done everything we asked. Super proud of this football team and what they accomplished this year. I’m sad. I’m hurting for these seniors, because I know what they’ve put into it.”

Facing a North Gwinnett program that is accustomed to being in the second round and even won a state title in 2017, Lambert started the game with the struggles one might expect for a school with only a single prior postseason win.

Being forced to punt on its opening drive, the Longhorns snapped the ball over Ryan Degyansky's head and across the goal line. The senior recovered the ball but was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

Despite a strong ensuing kickoff by Degyansky that the Bulldogs didn't field cleanly, North Gwinnett (10-2) scored quickly on quarterback Ryan Hall's 42-yard keeper. A Lambert fumble moments later set up the hosts for a 1-yard touchdown drive.

The Longhorns began to battle their way back into the game on their next possession.

While falling down, quarterback James Tyre side-armed a screen pass to Brandon Jones, who went virtually untouched for a 34-yard score.

Even though the Bulldogs would answer back and successfully executed a 2-point conversion for a three-score advantage, the Longhorns found the end zone twice more before halftime to remain within 24-21 at the break.

Both touchdowns came on passes from Tyre to Christian Smith.

The first saw Smith shake off a would-be tackler before breaking away for a 45-yard score. After North Gwinnett unsuccessfully tried a fake punt on its own 32-yard line with two minutes left in the first half, Tyre found Smith on third-and-long for a 19-yard TD.

“He was hurt for half the year and hadn’t been a part of it,” Beach said of Smith. “We knew he was so explosive last year for us. We knew we had to get him involved, and we did later in the year.

“He’s a heckuva dang football player and a sophomore. He made plays tonight.”

Needing a stop out of halftime, Tommy Morris tipped a pass that Bradley Gabriel intercepted to set up the Longhorns' go-ahead touchdown.

In a three-play span, Lambert's offense converted a fourth down on a pass to Tommy Lafayette, took a long sack and scored off a 31-yard designed keeper by Tyre.

North Gwinnett righted the ship at that point, really turning to its ground game to sustain drives and chew up clock.

The Bulldogs' first two seres after falling behind resulted in touchdowns. The first score came late in the third quarter, and the second occurred midway through the fourth.

Down 38-28, a pair of 15-yard penalties and a solid kickoff return by Ethan Terry put the Longhorns right back into business.

Less than a minute later — on another long fourth-down pass — Tyre floated a ball perfectly for Smith to haul in for 6 points, and Degyansky's fifth successful point after try kept North Gwinnett up only 3.

11232022 LAMBERT FB 3
Lambert's James Tyre breaks away from a group of North Gwinnett defenders for a touchdown during a Class 7A state playoff game Friday at Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium in Suwanee. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)
Remarkably, though, the Bulldogs ran out the final 5 minutes 13 seconds. As it did all game, North Gwinnett relied heavily on the legs of Kayden McDonald to burn off nearly half of the final period.

An AJC Super 11 selection, McDonald is poised to play defensive line at Ohio State. Listed at 310 pounds on 247Sports, the senior managed to break tackles and even produced a 47-yard run — the longest play from scrimmage for either team — on the drive.

Unable to get the ball back for one final possession, Lambert will likely reflect on several plays both early and late in the coming days. Down the road, though, the Longhorns will be able to remember fondly a 2022 season that could be considered the program's most successful.

“If they learned as much from me as I did from them this year, as far as not quitting on anything, they can always fall back on that,” Beach said. “We never quit. We just kept battling.”