After a rocky start that included two costly special team mistakes and a major injury to a star player, Lambert used a cast of unlikely characters to battle back from a 16-7 hole and defeat West Forsyth, 35-31, on Friday night at The Horn.
Backup quarterback Bobby Gabriel entered the game on Lambert’s final drive because of his running ability, and the late switch from head coach Louis Daniel worked when his sophomore quarterback ran a bootleg 5 yards to give the Longhorns the lead. West’s quarterback Kiernen Hamilton, who was flustered all night by Lambert’s aggressive defensive backs, had the Wolverines in Lambert territory with time ticking away when he fumbled while climbing in the pocket—Lambert’s Kyle Conner jumped on the ball to preserve the win.
“The kids played great,” Daniel said. “We used two quarterbacks, Bobby came in late in the game. I just kept telling the boys to believe in themselves and believe in the system. We were watching the (defensive) end on the last touchdown. Before we called it, we knew that play was there.”
Lambert held West, who was scoring 42 points a game in region play, to just 273 yards.
“Our offense never got in a rhythm,” West head coach Adam Clack said. “We weren’t able to completely execute, and a lot of that is credited to a heck of an effort from a very good Lambert defense.”
Lambert (7-1, 7-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) had to call on sophomore tailbacks Will Kohlins and Marcus Chatelain after Ken Dicks left the game with a hand injury after just seven carries. Lambert was already without Brian Wright and Harrison Pomfret—the team’s leading rushers—but still managed 195 yards on the ground between six different runners.
After Lambert fell behind 31-28 on a 54-yard interception return from Luke Lingo, head coach Louis Daniel finally decided to give Chatelain, who had spent the game on defense, a chance in the backfield. The young runner produced, carrying six times for 54 yards on the final drive, including runs of 22 and 14 yards, to set up Gabriel’s fake and score.
“We’ve lost three tailbacks,” Daniel said. “We got one back, Dicks was running great but hurt his wrist. So, we had Shepherd, Kohlins and Chatelain come in. Marcus is a great tailback. We know that, but he’s also one of the best players on defense, so that’s why we had to keep him fresh.”
To take the four-point lead, Lambert needed to call on another underclassmen—junior kicker Nikolas Propes. Tanner Hall was ruled ineligible to participate in the extra point after getting hit on a roughing penalty. Prope's lone kick was enough to put the pressure on West (5-3, 5-2) to go the distance to win.
Punting problems put Lambert in an early hole—a low snap was dropped, then blocked by Grant Torgerson and returned for a score by Thomas Arundale to tie the game at 7-all. Trailing 14-7, a high snap went over the punter’s head and out of the end zone for a safety. After receiving the free kick, West looked poised to take a 23-7 advantage to halftime before the Longhorns defense forced a turnover on downs after a Torgerson fumble.
With just 40 seconds remaining in the first half, Lambert marched 61 yards on six plays and punched in on a 1-yard plunge from Richie Kenney. The Longhorns then took the lead, 21-16, on the fourth play of the second half when Hamilton’s pass over the middle was returned by Jarrett Wright for 50-yard touchdown.
Hamilton hit Broxson again on a 35-yard pass, and a 2-point conversion put West up 24-21. Twelve plays later, Kohlins returned the favor with a 4-yard touchdown run. Hamilton finished 19 of 33 for 241 yards, while West only rushed for 32 yards on 13 rushes. Kenney completed 10 of 20 passes for 160 yards, while adding 20 yards on the ground. Kohlins had 14 carries for 35 yards, while Dylan Shepherd had 10 for 38.
Lambert now has full control at the top of Region 6-AAAAAA. If the Longhorns and South Forsyth handle business next week against Chattahoochee and Johns Creek, the regular season finale between Lambert and South will play as a natural region championship.
With that in mind, Daniel hopes his team doesn’t look ahead of winless Chattahoochee.
“We’ve still got to play Chattahoochee. I know they’re athletic,” Daniel said. “In the end you have South, and they are right there with us, but it’s great to be in the position we are. It feels really good.”