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Football: Lambert runs over Wheeler to reach 2nd round
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Lambert's Cameron Bland runs across the goal line for a touchdown against Wheeler during a Class 7A state playoff first-round matchup Saturday at The Horn. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)

When Marc Beach joined the Lambert coaching staff, the Longhorns were coming off an 0-10 season.

The team went 5-5 that first year but only won a single region game. Last fall, Lambert earned a No. 4 seed in the Class 7A playoffs, suffering a lopsided defeat to eventual state champion Collins Hill to finish 7-4.

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Lambert's Branson Brooks sacks Wheeler quarterback Marcus Romain during a Class 7A state playoff first-round matchup Saturday at The Horn. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)
Now in Beach's first campaign in charge of the program, the Longhorns started 9-0, earned a home playoff game and produced the program's first 10-win campaign.

The former Lambert offensive coordinator achieved the perfect 10 turnaround by leading a 45-14 rout of Wheeler in the 7A opening round Saturday at The Horn for the Longhorns' second-ever postseason win.

"These kids have worked extremely hard," Beach said. "We didn’t play great in the first half, to my liking. But we came out and did what we had to do in the second half.

"These kids have overcome a bunch of obstacles. Nobody expected us to be where we’re at right now, 10-1 and still playing. I thought we came out in the second half and played how we did for 10 games.”

History nearly repeated itself, as Lambert's inaugural playoff win came Nov. 11, 2016 — six years and a day ago — in a 44-14 win over Central Gwinnett.

The Longhorns will hope to avoid what happened the week after its first postseason victory: a loss.

That time, it came against North Cobb. This time, Lambert will face North Gwinnett.

To advance to the quarterfinals, the second-seeded Longhorns will need to avoid the brief malaise they found themselves in late in the second quarter that gave the No. 3 seed Wildcats (5-6) the opportunity to get back in the game.

“There’s really good leadership in this senior class, and that’s really what is helping us,” Beach said. “When we’re not playing well, there’s enough leadership that steps up for us.”

That showed up early, as Lambert sprinted to a 21-0 lead within the opening 14 minutes.

Cameron Bland produced a 22-yard rushing touchdown for the game's first points, and moments later, a blocked punt set up a 1-yard plunge by Carson Knowles.

Early in the second quarter, Longhorns quarterback James Tyre managed a highlight-reel 35-yard run to set up his 16-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jones, who paced his side with 67 receiving yards.

However, at that point, Lambert seemed to switch into cruise control, which allowed Wheeler to score on a blown coverage. Marcus Romain's 35-yard toss to Javon Broussard pulled the visitors to within 21-7 at halftime.

“We just kind of hit a lull,” Beach said. “We didn’t do some things right. We didn’t protect, didn’t block and that sort of stuff.”

The Wildcats got the ball to begin the second half, but an interception by Bradley Gabriel on a deep ball flipped the momentum back in favor of the hosts.

“That got us going,” Beach said. “That was a big play for us. It jumpstarted us.”

Following the pick by one of the team's senior captains, Lambert drove straight down the field, with Bland breaking free for his second touchdown — this one from 46 yards out.

The Longhorns added a 26-yard field goal by Ryan Degyansky late in the third quarter.

Tommy Lafayette (43 yards) and Tyre (14 yards) broke off rushing touchdowns on either side of a Wildcats scoring pass from Romain to Greg Kendrick to complete the scoring.

Overall, Lambert rushed for 326 yards, with Tyre accounting for 54 of them.

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Lambert's Ethan Terry tries to break away from Wheeler defenders during a Class 7A state playoff first-round matchup Saturday at The Horn. (Photo by Kevin O'Brien)
Bland picked up 82 yards on just four carries. Lafayette managed 10 attempts for 54 yards before totaling 83 yards on a solo series, featuring four consecutive totes, including his 43-yard score. Terry ran seven times for 43 yards.

“Those backs complement each other so well,” Beach said. “Tommy is the physical guy. Cam is the slicer. E.T. is sort of in between and very patient. They bring something different to the table. They’re really explosive, all three of them.”

Tyre, who added 197 passing yards on an efficient 21-of-25 showing, and the backs ran behind a strong offensive line that battled a large Wheeler defensive front. It was a test Beach believes will prepare them for next week.

“We got better, I think, as the game went on,” he said of the offensive line. “We made a couple of little adjustments and got better. I think we wore them down a little bit.

“We’re not huge, and we’re going to face a big front next week. North Gwinnett’s defensive linemen are huge. We’re going to have to find ways to make them move.”

North Gwinnett is the Region 7-7A champion and defeated Dacula by a 37-7 margin in the opening round.

While the trip to North Gwinnett will serve as Lambert's first road game since Oct. 14, Beach expects plenty of Longhorns will make the short trip across county lines.

“It should be like a home game,” he said. “Heck, it’s only 4-5 miles. It’s going to be a great atmosphere back on a Friday night. North Gwinnett will have a bunch of people there, and I think the Lambert faithful will be there, too.”