West Forsyth and Lambert entered Friday night’s game dealing with vastly different circumstances: West playing only for positioning against a Lambert team fighting for their playoff lives.
In the end, the Longhorns put all the pieces together and earned a huge 33-14 victory on the road against their Region 6-AAAAAA rivals.
Lambert (6-4, 5-2) entered the game in fourth place in the region, but ended the night in second place after leapfrogging West (7-3, 5-2). The Longhorns now have the privilege of hosting their first playoff game since 2010 while the Wolverines must go on the road.
Offensively, Lambert quarterback Tucker Maxwell had one of his best games of the season, producing huge numbers on the ground (13 carries, 140 yards, 2 TDs) and maintaining a high level of efficiency with his passes (8-of-14, 112 yards, TD). Wide receiver and place-kicker Tanner Hall also came up big for the Longhorns, hauling in a touchdown pass in the third quarter and securing the win with two clutch field goals in the closing minutes of the game.
"I’m so proud of this whole football team," Lambert coach Sid Maxwell said. "(Our season) didn’t start out so well and we had to endure the first three very ugly football games. We challenged our young men after we lost to South Forsyth and since then our rallying cry has been ‘One More Week.’ Tonight was a hard fought game and we just had some guys step up and make plays for us."
The Longhorn defense once again proved that they are one of the preeminent units in the entire region. West quarterback Hampton McConnell (18-of-30, 208 yards, TD, 2 INTs) rarely looked comfortable in the pocket as he was sacked four times and pressured often. The Wolverine rushing attack was similarly ineffective, averaging only 1.8 yards per carry.
"We took a little step backwards tonight," West coach Frank Hepler said. "We played against a well-coached football team who has played close games all year. They came out like they needed to win a football game and our guys kind of played like it was just another game. All the credit goes to Lambert, our guys played really hard but we just couldn’t get over the hump."
The Wolverines began the game sharp offensively, taking a quick 7-0 lead on a Trevor O’Brien 9-yard touchdown run. However, Lambert went on to score 19 straight points, which included a blocked punt for a safety, a Hall field goal, a Maxwell 1-yard touchdown run and a laser-accurate slant pass from Maxwell to Hall for another touchdown. When the scoring spree was finished, Lambert had taken a commanding 19-7 lead in the third quarter.
West would get within five in the third quarter by converting a fourth down play-action pass play from McConnell to Kyran Ochocki, trimming the lead 19-14 with 7:27 left. But Lambert answered right back. Maxwell punched in his second rushing touchdown of the night and converted a two-point conversion to increase the advantage to 27-14 with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
The Longhorns dominated the fourth quarter, extending their lead by another six points with two Hall field goals of 25 and 26 yards. The Wolverines’ offense was shut out in the final quarter, including a costly McConnell interception hauled in by Lambert defensive captain Jake Chickowski with only 6:47 remaining, putting the final nail in the coffin.
"We just followed our (defensive) keys, did what we were supposed to do and played well as a team," Chickowski said. "They couldn’t run the ball all game long and it really played out great for us in the end."
Although holding second place for most of the year, West must quickly readjust and prepare to travel to Dacula for the first round of the state playoffs. Lambert will host Brookwood in their first round playoff game next week.