The critical strategic components of tonight’s game between Lambert and South Forsyth come with the most tenuous of caveats.
“If we stop LaFlamme …”
“[O’Brien is] going to be a super challenge for our defense…”
“Controlling LaFlamme is one thing…”
“Well, obviously, stop Trevor…”
In the county’s biggest rivalry and a game with playoff ramifications, the outcome seems fittingly in the hands of two star running backs.
For South senior Tyler LaFlamme, it’s been a season of fulfillment, four years waiting for the chance to handle the workload at running back and see what he could do, and he has flourished. LaFlamme leads Class AAAAAA with 1,395 yards rushing on 191 carries with 15 touchdowns.
He’s helped the War Eagles (6-3, 6-2 in Region 6-AAAAAA) secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2010 and atone for last season’s gut-wrenching loss in the regular season finale that eliminated South from contention.
“I was definitely looking forward to this year,” LaFlamme said.
For Lambert senior Trevor O’Brien, it’s been a season of risk, staking the fortunes of his senior season at a new school in a new offense hoping he could duplicate his prior success, and it took time. Lambert started 1-3, and the former standout at West Forsyth was averaging just 3.9 yards per carry.
But the Longhorns (6-3, 6-2) and O’Brien have been rewarded for their patience. Lambert is on a five-game winning streak, and O’Brien has been at the forefront of the resurgence. He’s rushed for 1,055 yards and eight touchdowns on 209 carries to help the Longhorns get back into the playoff picture that will finally become clear after tonight.
“I knew we were going to get our mojo back and get a lot better after we practiced and got to know what we did wrong,” O’Brien said.
The trajectory of their seasons has been simultaneously different and similar.
Three months ago, their seasons started unceremoniously. LaFlamme was held to 61 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in a 38-31 season-opening loss to Mountain View. O’Brien’s debut with his new team was even worse – 51 yards on 24 carries as Lambert lost 27-14 to Lanier.
Both found their stride in games against Chattahoochee.
LaFlamme put forth one of the state’s most memorable performances, rushing for 435 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-34 victory. At the time, it was the fifth-most yards in a single game in state history.
“Throughout the game I knew it was an unbelievable performance,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said, “but to hear that amount of yards was shocking to anybody.”
O’Brien had his own signature moment of the season against the Cougars when he rushed for 309 yards on 36 carries in Lambert’s 20-9 win.
“I didn’t really realize that Trevor was having a 300-yard game,” Lambert head coach Louis Daniel said. “I really thought he was having a 150- to 200-yard game.”
And so it’s underscored for both coaches how much their chances for a win hinge on being able to contain LaFlamme and O’Brien.
It means Lambert must deal with LaFlamme’s 5-foot-10, 195-pound frame blasting through the line of scrimmage undaunted by contact.
“He’s a very hard runner,” O’Brien said. “He’s got the size for it. He just puts his head down and runs over people.”
It means South must catch O’Brien’s 5-foot-8, 185-pound frame shifting through blocks and tacklers with deceptive speed.
“He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s explosive,” Arnette said. “…The first step he takes he’s at full speed before he ever gets the football.”
Finally, the arc of their seasons meets just at the right moment - with bragging rights and a home playoff game at stake.
“It’s going to be crazy like every other year,” LaFlamme said.
“There’s nothing else like it,” O’Brien said.