It had been Lambert’s season, but it wasn’t its night on Friday.
North Cobb announced its presence by spraying orange chalk before kickoff, tinting the atmosphere in visiting colors, before using a relentless defense and ground game to defeat the Longhorns 35-7 in the second round of the GHSA Class 7A playoffs at The Horn.
The Warriors (10-2) forced three turnovers, sacked Richie Kenney six times and got big plays on the ground from tailback C.J. Cole that set up short-yardage touchdowns, but it was a momentum-swinging kick return just three minutes into the game that set the tone.
After Lambert (7-5) cruised to a touchdown drive on its first possession, which ended in a 29-yard touchdown pass from Kenney to Bobby Gabriel—where Kenney stood in and took a big hit—North Cobb’s Drew Tejchman took off for a 92-yard touchdown return.
The Warriors scored the game’s only points from then on out to advance to the state quarterfinals, where they will visit nationally ranked Roswell next week. For Lambert, head coach Louis Daniel and his senior class held heads high despite the decisive defeat. Heading into the season the Longhorns had yet to win region or a playoff game since opening in 2009, but in the past few weeks they sealed both milestones.
“These kids are leaders, plain and simple,” Daniel said. “These seniors helped the program take the next step. There’s no reason for any of them to hang their heads. I’ve never seen a football team fight like they do. We had an up and down season, but the score never mattered. Those kids just go out and play.”
Mistakes were still costly for the Longhorns. Delshaun Harris intercepted Kenney for the first turnover of the game, which led to a 1-yard touchdown from Jai Erwin. Trey Urquhart picked Kenney in the third quarter, setting up Cole’s 38-yard touchdown run to make the score 26-7.
Cole only scored once, but was the center of North Cobb’s offense with big carries of 24, 49 and 38 yards to lead to his team-leading total of 151 yards on 16 carries. The Warriors also got a touchdown from a yard out from Christian Singleton and quarterback Will Lovett, while defensive lineman Nick Price added a sack-safety on the first play of the fourth quarter.
North Cobb’s dominant defensive front—which includes Auburn commit Chandler Wooten and Division I prospect Thurman Geathers—chased Kenney to his non-throwing side for most of the second half. Geathers lost count of how many sacks he had in the game, gesturing with his digits after each, but finished with four of the team’s six—Christian Albright had the other.
“Their front seven is pretty good. Those three or four guys with their hands on the ground are very good,” Daniel said. “We tried to throw the ball around in the third and they put a lot of pressure on us. We weren’t able to run the ball like we wanted. But at the end of the day those three turnovers and that special teams mistake put us in a hole. You can’t win doing that, no matter what classification you’re in or who you are playing.”
There was simply not much more Kenney could do, finishing 8 of 29 for 81 yards with the touchdown and two interceptions, but he and dynamic receiver Tyler Gillis only connected four times on 12 attempts.
North Cobb eventually outgained the Longhorns 334-225, as Lambert’s Brian Wright kept fans into the game with big runs in the second half—including scampers of 49 and 21 yards. Wright, who had to be helped off the field after the game’s final play, led the team with 105 yards and 13 carries.