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PIGSKIN PREVIEW: Lambert looking to end a two-year playoff drought
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Brendan Bibb, Drew Surio, Anthony Newton and Daniel Park hope to help get Lambert back to the playoffs after two years on the outside looking in. - photo by Ben Hendren

By Cameron Adamczyk

For the Forsyth County News

The recent struggles of Lambert’s football team have not been a secret. Over the past two seasons, the Longhorns have failed to make the state playoffs, have one total region win and find themselves far from being a perennial Region 5-7A powerhouse.

But a razor-thin margin exists in the high classification and especially in the region. Even in the seasons where Lambert has won region championships, the scores were tight and the games come down to just a few possessions. Lambert’s Louis Daniel knows that’s what comes with the territory.

“You can say it’s a drought, but two years ago we win the region and we go 6-4,” Daniel said. “We could have easily been 10-0 or 9-1 that year, we could have very easily been 3-7 or 2-8 that year. Sometimes, for whatever the reason is, the ball will bounce your way.”

Turnovers were something that plagued the Longhorns in 2018. Lambert gave the ball away in most of their region games, sometimes multiple times a game.

“We turned the ball over a little bit last year, and we lost the majority of our games being right there – a 13 or 14-point deficit,” Daniel said. “One turnover can sometimes be a 14-point swing.”

Lambert’s closest game of the season, a 28-27 overtime loss to Forsyth Central, was a perfect example, with the Longhorns turning the ball over twice in the first half. Limiting those mistakes in 2019 will be a key to turning around their struggles.

Even though the 2018 season ended with Lambert finishing 0-5 in the region and 3-7 overall, there is a lot of optimism heading into 2019. One of the biggest reasons for that is senior quarterback Peyton Rich. He heads into the season with two years of varsity starts under his belt.

Early in the program’s history, Lambert often experimented with starting quarterbacks from a younger age. But as the program has gotten older, the Longhorns have tried to use more experienced players to lead their offense. Rich has been an exception, getting his first start during region play of his sophomore year. Rich had some ups, throwing for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdown in 2018, but he’s also had some downs, pairing those numbers with 15 interceptions. Every throw he’s made was a learning experience.

“I probably was very nervous most of the games (in my sophomore year),” Rich said. “I probably thought I couldn’t make most of the throws but now that I’m older, I feel like I’m much more experienced.”

Like most seasons, Lambert is losing some of their key pieces on both sides of the ball. They lose their top four tacklers on the defensive side, and their top three all-purpose yards leaders on the offensive side. Despite that, Daniel remains excited about the players he is bringing in for the 2019 season.

“The parts to the car are just sitting on the garage floor,” he said. “You haven’t put them on yet, but you’re excited to get it together, see what it’s going to look like.”

One of those pieces is rising senior and three-year starter Anthony Newton. Newton was a force in the secondary last season, being tasked with shutting down the opponent’s best receivers every week.

“I just feel like we’re a faster team this year,” Newton said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys coming up that are ready to play and I just think that we’re a faster group that’s ready to fly around and get to it.”

Lambert’s goal is clear: Get to the state playoffs. While Daniel didn’t want to call it a drought, two seasons in a row of going home early can’t sit well with the team. Behind an experienced quarterback and fast defense, this Lambert team hopes stop the drought at two years.