It wasn’t a playoff game this time around, but it sure felt like one.
Lambert scored 23 unanswered points in the second half on Friday night to defeat Collins Hill 26-16 at The Horn, and in the process it erased the memory of last season’s early playoff exit and the perception that they couldn’t compete with the teams from Gwinnett County.
Lambert fell at Collins Hill 35-13 in the opening round of the postseason eight months ago, and the Longhorns hadn’t defeated a team from Gwinnett in five previous tries since opening play in 2009—including last week’s opening loss at Mountain View.
That explained why head coach Louis Daniel was a bit more pumped up than usual after the victory.
“I told the guys before the game this would be a barometer for us,” Daniel said. “Going into tonight, during our pregame meal and pregame talk, we just talked about that we know where we stood with them a year ago. This game was big, but it doesn’t mean anything in the region standings so we just wanted to take it like a three-o count, and just swing away and see what happens.”
The Longhorns (1-1) got a boost with two second half touchdowns from running back Marcus Chatelain, who already had an interception on defense, and from their special teams and defensive line. Defensive lineman Parker Reynolds had two of the team’s five sacks, including one where he pushed Collins Hill quarterback Drew Dinsmore out of the back of the endzone for a safety to make the score 26-10 with just over five minutes in the game.
Collins Hill (0-3) took a 10-3 lead into halftime thanks to a touchdown pass from Dinsmore to 6-foot-5 senior Braxton Curry on a fourth-and-7 play from 28 yards out. Chatelain was the man beat on the play, but he and the rest of the secondary managed to tighten up and forced the Eagles out of their preferred passing attack for much of the second half.
Dinsmore, who passed for over 300 yards against Lambert last year, was just 13-of-33 for 176 yards and a touchdown on Friday night. He left the game late in the fourth quarter due to an unspecified injury. In the second half he completed just four of 14 attempts.
“We didn’t do anything different, we just kept going after them,” Daniel said.
Daniel thought Chatelain’s first quarter interception helped set the tone and signal that the Eagles were facing a different team than they did in November.
“It felt like we just tightened up and communicated as the game went on and it started to work out,” Chatelain said. “This win means a lot. Collins Hill is another one of those power schools from Gwinnett and to beat them, it’s a morale booster, but we have to come out with this energy in every game.”
Lambert finished with just 229 yards of total offense, while Collins Hill had 224. Lambert won the game in the second half by winning a battle of field position. After Chatelain carried four times, finishing the first drive of the third quarter with a 6-yard touchdown, the Longhorns defense forced a turnover when Ken Dicks knocked the ball out of the hands of a Collins Hill receiver and Noah Beck recovered.
That led to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Richie Kenney (6-of-11, 57 yards, touchdown, interception) to Tyler Gillis, who managed to retrieve a batted ball in the corner of the endzone.
Then Lambert forced Collins Hill into a punt, which it shanked for a total of 1-yard, giving the Longhorns the ball on the 10 to start the fourth quarter. Chatelain capitalized, cutting back and walking into the endzone to give Lambert a 24-10 lead with 11:47 to play. He finished with 74 rushing yards on 11 carries.
After Reynolds’ safety-sack, Dinsmore went down and backup quarterback Jon-Michael Findlay hit Curry for another touchdown from 3 yards out with under a minute to. The Eagles’ 2-point conversation attempt to make it a one-score game failed.
Lambert kicker Bryce Christensen had a 35-yard field goal, a 14-yard run for a first down near midfield off a botched snap and a 45-yard punt that pinned Collins Hill at the 5-yard line that prompted the safety.
Lambert’s starting tailback Will Kohlins carried 12 times for 54 yards, while Justin Bruno had eight carries for 21 yards, but key first downs.
Collins Hill had seven of eight pass catchers receive more than one pass, but ran for just 48 total yards.