Beating your neighborhood rival? That’s nice. Beating your neighborhood rival to win your region opener? Much more important.
In a matchup of schools separated by just 4.3 miles, Lambert rolled up 405 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers, defeating South Forsyth 32-19 on Friday night in a matchup of unbeaten teams at The Horn.
"It’s our first region game," said Lambert tailback Daniel Myers, who rushed for 133 yards and scored on a 64-yard touchdown run. "We had to come out here and get it."
Get it the Longhorns did, in a game that felt more like November than September. An estimated crowd of more than 7,000 filled the stands 30 minutes before kickoff of the third meeting all-time between the two neighboring schools. Lambert (4-0, 1-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) now leads the series 3-0, and more importantly, jumps ahead of South (3-1, 0-1) in the region standings.
Other than Myers’ long touchdown run in the early moments of the first quarter, the Longhorns took time to get their running game on track. But once Lambert started finding creases in South’s defense, it took control.
Four Lambert running backs rushed for 56 yards or more, and the Longhorns picked up 16 of their 20 first downs on the ground.
"They tried to come right at us," Lambert coach Sid Maxwell said. "We tried to take it right to them and we controlled the line of scrimmage."
South, which had some success blitzing Lambert quarterback Brock Maxwell in the first half, could not corral the Longhorns’ backfield for much of the night.
"We struggled stopping them," South coach Jeff Arnette said. "We did not play great defense tonight."
Maxwell rushed 20 times for 99 yards and completed 3 of 4 passes for 54 yards.
Leading 14-6 at halftime, the Longhorns marched 80 yards on just five plays (all rushes) to open the second half. James Little gained 47 of his 63 rushing yards on the drive, and Maxwell burst into the end zone from two yards out just 1:10 into the second half to push Lambert’s lead to 20-6.
Cornerback Jordan Jean-Felix recovered a South fumble at the War Eagles’ 22 on the first play of the ensuing possession. Three plays later, Ryan Karjala kicked a 38-yard field goal to extend Lambert’s advantage to 23-6 with 8:42 left in the third quarter.
The War Eagles pulled within 23-13 with 3:17 left in the quarter. South quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey completed three passes to Jordan Arnett on the drive, and rushed in from 1 yard out.
Maxwell capped the ensuing possession on the opening play of the fourth, eluding the South blitz, cutting to the right sideline and diving to the pylon for a 19-yard touchdown run that made it 29-13.
South drew within 29-19 on Jeffrey’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Arnett with 10:58 remaining. The Longhorns bled the clock on their next drive, holding the ball for seven minutes, four seconds. Karjala kicked his second field goal of the night, from 28 yards out, to make it 32-19.
Both head coaches acknowledged the big turnout. Sid Maxwell said the memories from playing a game like this will last a lifetime for players on both teams.
"For the communities of South Forsyth and Lambert to come out and support all of these guys like this, that’s what it’s all about," he said.
Perhaps both teams felt the butterflies in the early going. Lambert jumped offsides on the opening kickoff. Two plays later, Jeffrey was intercepted at midfield on a great play by Lambert defensive back Danny Edgewood. The Longhorns then fumbled on the next play, with South linebacker Mickey Thomas recovering at the War Eagles’ 49.
After the nerves settled, both teams played well in the opening half.
On Lambert’s next possession, Myers broke loose up the middle and outraced the South defense 64 yards for a touchdown. Karjala kicked the extra point and the Longhorns led 7-0 with 9:37 remaining in the opening quarter.
The War Eagles answered late in the quarter. Sam Walker bounced off left tackle for 13 yards and a first down, and a Lambert personal foul at the end of the play gave South a first down at the Longhorns’ 31.
Lambert’s defense halted the drive, but McKee kicked a 43-yard field goal with 2:34 left in the quarter to bring the War Eagles within 7-3.
The Longhorns responded with a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Brock Maxwell rushed five times for 47 yards on the drive. He picked up two yards on fourth-and-1 from midfield, and capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
Karjala made the extra point and Lambert led 14-3 with 10:03 left in the half.
South put together a 12-play, 60-yard drive on its ensuing possession. Jeffrey completed four passes to receiver Alex Winski on the drive, including a key eight-yard pickup on third-and-seven from the Longhorns’ 28. The drive stalled, but McKee nailed a 37-yard field goal with 5:18 to go in the half to bring South within 14-6.
Jeffrey completed 13 of 26 passes for 189 yards with two interceptions. Arnett caught six passes for 100 yards. The War Eagles rushed for 57 yards on 26 carries as a team.
Lambert finished with 351 yards rushing on 58 carries, including eight carries for 56 yards from Jake Vazquez. Myers said all the credit starts with the Longhorns’ offensive line.
"Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line, as usual," Myers said, smiling. "All of the credit goes to them."
Lambert will try to remain unbeaten when it hosts North Forsyth (3-1) on Friday. South will look to get its first win when it hosts Alpharetta (1-3) on Friday.