A week after getting into a shootout with Denmark, Lambert's defense hoped to limit the big plays by South Forsyth in a Region 6-7A matchup Friday at The Horn.
When Ty Watkins quickly connected with Chris Nelson for 50 yards, it appeared that game plan wouldn't come to fruition. But moments later, Carson Knowles picked off a pass, and the Longhorns didn't allow any points until the game had been decided in an eventual 31-13 victory.
“We gave up some big plays last week where our eyes weren’t right,” Lambert head coach Marc Beach said. “That hurt us, and we concentrated on that.
“We felt like we had to contain Ty, because he’s such a good player. Our defensive staff did a great job. We did a great job of marking Nelson and those guys. We gave up the first play, and then kind of settled down.”
With the victory, the seventh-ranked Longhorns remained undefeated in Beach's debut season and set up a Region 6-7A championship game against Milton next week at home.
“I can’t say enough about these kids and what they do,” Beach said. “You ask them to do something, and they do it.
“It’s a group effort. It’s the parents. It’s the coaches. It’s the players. It’s the administration. Everybody working together, that’s what we’ve done.”
In between successful offensive possessions, Lambert (9-0, 4-0) terrorized Watkins, pressuring him on every dropback and bottling up each scramble.
Longhorns quarterback James Tyre capped the first half by intercepting his counterpart in the end zone, leaping in front of Nelson to make the catch. He returned the ball to midfield as time ran out.
“We talked all week about possibly running some nickel or dime and putting him back there to give him a chance," Beach said of Tyre. "He plays basketball, so he can read and do all of those things. Using him, there wasn’t a blink in his eye. He wanted it.”
It was already 24-0 at that point, thanks to Tyre's offensive exploits.
The senior fired a touchdown pass to Brandon Jones following Knowles' pick.
Tyre nearly had a rushing score moments later but was ruled to have stepped out of bounds, leading to a chip-shot field goal by Ryan Degyansky. With 11 seconds left in the opening stanza, Tyre finally got his rushing TD on a 15-yard designed keeper.
Ethan Terry got in on the act late in the second quarter, breaking off a 23-yard touchdown run.
Lambert started the third quarter with a 45-yard carry by Cameron Bland. South Forsyth, though, put the hosts into a fourth-and-long situation, leading to Degyansky lining up a 51-yard field goal.
The senior never got to attempt the kick, as the War Eagles (5-4, 2-2) jumped offside. The Longhorns decided to go for it, and Tyre hooked up with Bradley Gabriel for a long gain complete with two personal fouls against the visitors.
Tyre pushed Lambert's lead to 31-0 with his 1-yard burrow just 96 seconds into the third quarter.
“We haven’t been real crisp offensively the last couple of weeks,” Beach said. “We played some really good defenses. West is really good on defense and so is Denmark. We haven’t been as crisp as we needed to be. …
“Our guys ran hard. Cam ran hard; E.T. ran hard. And James, he just makes the plays you don’t normally see.”
A fumble by the Longhorns set up the War Eagles' first touchdown of the evening, a 3-yarder by Maverick Schippmann. Lambert put the ball on the ground again in the fourth quarter, and this time, Watkins benefitted, crossing the goal line from 4 yards out before overthrowing his receiver on the 2-point conversion try.
“I don’t feel like I called a very good game at all,” South Forsyth head coach Troy Morris said. “I take a lot of the blame. We had a game plan coming in, and I didn’t make an adjustment quick enough.
“I think our kids played a whole lot harder, and I think I called a little bit better game in the second half than I did the first half. I promise you, I’m going to get my part fixed. I believe in these kids, and they’re going to get their part fixed.”
The setback not only took the War Eagles out of the region title race but also put them on the playoff bubble.
A victory over West Forsyth (4-5, 1-3) next week would guarantee South Forsyth the No. 3 seed, while a loss opens the door for a three-way tie between the two teams and Denmark.
“As bad as it hurts, we’ve got to brush it off as quick as we can,” Morris said. “We’ll let this set in until tomorrow morning, and then we have to move on. We have a huge one next week against West. We have to play better than we did tonight. I need to do a better job coaching. We’re going to learn from it, fix it and move on. Hopefully, we’ll look a lot better next week.”
Outside of avoiding the fumbling issues that have plagued them at times, the Longhorns will essentially look to repeat their performance when the Eagles come to visit.
In what will likely be a top-10 matchup, Lambert will be seeking its second region crown and simultaneously looking to snap a run of four straight league titles for Milton. The Longhorns will also have the opportunity to produce the first-ever undefeated regular season in Forsyth County history.
But don't expect Beach to change his approach.
“They’re having fun,” he said of his players. “There’s no pressure. We’re in the playoffs. We’re playing a home game. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, our job is to keep them loose.
“That’s what we talked about all this week. We didn’t make them tight. Just do what we do. Do what you’ve been doing. I ask for three things: Play as hard as you can; play with class; and expect to win every play. That’s what we’re going to do next week too.”