SUGAR HILL – The season couldn’t have started better for Lambert on Friday night against Lanier. On the sixth play from scrimmage, senior lineman Brad Whicher picked up a fumble from quarterback Tahj Tolbert and jogged—green space all around—for a 20-yard touchdown.
Lambert’s defense also managed two interceptions of Tolbert before the first half ended, but in the end Lanier, ranked in the top-10 of Class AAAAA thanks to returning talent—including Georgia’s top prospect in defensive tackle Derrick Brown—dominated the line of scrimmage in a 17-7 win.
When the clock hit zero, Lambert (0-1) totaled just 69 total yards on offense. Much of the lack of output had to do with Brown, whose presence completely erased Lambert’s efforts to push for yards on the ground behind an all-senior offensive line. Brown also finished the game with two sacks and a fumble recovery, while forcing quarterback pressures on nearly every drop back.
A few costly penalties and a few more dropped passes kept Lambert from making a late comeback when it started to attack the edges in the second half.
“Any time you play a kid of that caliber you have to account for him,” Lambert coach Louis Daniel said. “The few times we got in a good spot, we didn’t execute. We as a football team didn’t execute. When you play a team that plays like that, your guys start pressing a little bit too.”
With the game tied 7-7 in the third quarter, Lambert’s offense was working from mid-field when starting quarterback Richie Kenney managed to elude Brown on a rush, only to lose the ball scrambling forward. Lanier (1-0) capitalized with a 25-yard Noah Thomas field goal, and on Lambert’s next possession Kenney threw an interception on third-and-13 to Morgen Kent. On the very next play, Ashton Barnes broke free on a 43-yard touchdown scamper.
While Lambert’s offense struggled, the defense wreaked havoc. Dylan Shepherd responded to the Lambert sideline yelling “screen” and jumped in front of a Tolbert pass in the second quarter for his first interception. Tolbert’s next pass was also picked when Tyler Ray ran toe-for-toe with a receiver down the sideline.
“Our kids got tired, and we gave them a score or two there in the end, but to give up just 17. If you told me with their athletes they have on offense that we’d only give up 17, going into the night, I would have felt really good about where we were,” Daniel said.
Lanier tied the game with 11:20 to go in the second quarter when Tolbert hit Noah Fritz on a 14-yard touchdown strike. Tolbert finished 7 of 16 for 96 yards and a score against two picks, while Barnes ran for 122 yards on 20 carries. Spell back Marcella Baity had 61 yards on 14 carries for Lanier.
Kenney completed 9 of 17 passes—four to Tyler Gillis, who saw extended playing time while starter Tanner Hall nursed a sprained ankle—and five to Jaryd Jean-Felix. Ken Dicks touched the ball five times on offense for 14 yards, while Harrison Pomfret was held to seven yards on 10 carries.
For Daniel, the good news is that Lambert got its feet wet against a top-ranked opponent from Class AAAAA, and the Longhorns clad-in-red will play only region games from here on, starting Sept. 4 at home against Johns Creek.
“The kids competed tonight. The good news is this isn’t a region game and we’ll get better. We’ll learn and we have good kids,” Daniel said.
Lanier 17, Lambert 7
Lambert 7 0 0 0 7
Lanier 0 7 3 7 17
LAM: B. Whicher 20 fumble return (kick good), 10:11
LAN: N. Fritz 14 pass from T. Tolbert (kick good), 11:20
LAN: N. Thomas 25 FG. 1:23
LAN: A. Barnes 43 run (kick good), 11:41