Going into the third quarter, Lambert senior linebacker Dillon Alexander had already added to his county-best sack total and begun to disrupt Chattahoochee quarterback Taz Wilson’s hot start. Wilson had thrown two interceptions and lost his rhythm with his top receiver, UAB commitment Collin Lisa. Wilson’s pocket was collapsing, and the Longhorns were taking advantage.
Two plays into the second half, Alexander had his third sack of the night. Two plays later, Lambert had its third interception.
"We were all over them tonight," Alexander said.
Lambert’s defense suffocated Chattahoochee in a dominant 41-20 performance at The Horn in a Region 6-AAAAAA game. The Longhorns had four sacks and four interceptions, held the Cougars to just 18 yards rushing and scored 10 points off turnovers.
The win improved Lambert to 5-4 overall, 4-2 in the region and set up a crucial season finale against West Forsyth (7-2, 5-1) next week with playoff implications. Either combination of a Lambert win over West or a North Forsyth (6-3, 3-3) loss to South Forsyth (7-2, 4-2) will give the Longhorns the fourth seed in the region. A Lambert loss coupled with a North win will create a three-way tie that will be settled by point differential in region games.
Really, the Longhorns have been in playoff mode since losing 21-14 to rival South on Sept. 20. It was the early low point of the season for a Lambert program that had never lost to the War Eagles or started 1-3. But the Longhorns rebounded with three straight wins, including consecutive one-point victories over North and Centennial, before a 14-12 loss at region-leader Alpharetta last week.
"After that loss to South, that was a battle," Lambert coach Sid Maxwell said, "and we’ve been battling ever since."
The constant throughout the Longhorns’ resurgence was their defense. Lambert entered Friday allowing just 16.6 points per game despite an offense that struggled to move the ball and had been turnover prone.
The unit again set the tone against Chattahoochee (3-6, 1-5). The Cougars scored on their first drive of the game, moving 68 yards in 11 plays capped by Chase Nelson’s 1 yard plunge to put Chattahoochee up 7-3 with 1:07 left in the first quarter. Wilson started the game 8 of 10 for 117 yards.
But Lambert responded. Tucker Maxwell capped an 8-play, 60-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak to put the Longhorns up 10-7 with 8:36 left in the half.
Alexander made his first big play of the night on Chattahoochee’s ensuing possession, sacking Wilson for a 13 yard loss on the Cougars’ first play. Four plays later, Alexander sacked Wilson again. One play later, Wilson threw his first interception to Jordyn Jean-Felix, who had two on the night.
Taking over on Chattahoochee’s 36, Lambert needed just five plays to score on a 1 yard run by Kameron Pickett to take a 17-7 lead with 4:06 left in the second quarter.
Wilson wasn’t the same quarterback the rest of the game. Alexander and the Lambert defense turned up the pressure. Zach Matthews added a sack. Jeremy Johnson and Chad Conner had interceptions. After his hot start, Wilson went cold completing just 2 of 12 passes for 23 yards with two interceptions through the second and third quarters. He finished 17 of 34 for 293 yards with a late touchdown and the four interceptions. Lisa finished with 10 catches for 202 yards.
"Once we started putting pressure on [Wilson], we started getting back there making sacks, making plays," Alexander said.
"I don’t care what quarterback you have," Maxwell said, "if people are running back there it’s hard to look downfield if you’re looking at people running at you. That always changes a quarterback’s complexity of thinking."
Maxwell led a strong rushing performance from Lambert with 96 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Pickett had 12 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown, while Drew Cole added six carries for 56 yards and a touchdown that was set up by a 90 yard kickoff return by Brandon Miller just before halftime.
"It was a big night," Alexander said. "We were all really excited, especially because it was Senior Night. A lot of our seniors were just in the zone or excited. We were all making plays, and hopefully we can make it into that playoff spot."