Photo: Kevin Hinton. Peachtree Ridge quarterback Nick Lombardo (13) reaches for the end zone over Kell's Nathan Lowman (73) during Friday night's playoff game.
SUWANEE -- The game's first six fumbles brought misery to Peachtree Ridge. The seventh was a life-saver.
Moments after the Lions had tied the game with a fourth-quarter touchdown, Eric Odonkor forced a Kell fumble on the ensuing kickoff and kicker Justin Watts recovered at the Longhorns' 33-yard line.
Seven plays later, Brandon Stanley scored his second touchdown in the final 3 minutes, 19 seconds as Peachtree Ridge won 14-7 in a scary first-round matchup in the Class AAAAA playoffs. The Lions (9-2) got more good news afterward with Brookwood's upset over McEachern, giving them a home playoff game against the Broncos next Friday.
"Most of the time if you do that (fumble six times), you lose the ball game," Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard said. "We won't be able to do that next week and win. I'm real proud of the offensive line, they kept plugging away every time (we fumbled) and the defense fought hard all game long."
Kell took advantage of one of those Peachtree Ridge fumbles, at its own 34, and turned it into a 7-0 first-quarter lead. Though the Lions' defense was stifling from that point on, it looked like the one score might be enough thanks to their sloppy offense.
The hosts lost three of their six fumbles, the most costly on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. That was the 17th play of a long drive that was kept alive by Watts, who scampered 15 yards for a first down when all the Kell defenders peeled back on a punt.
Peachtree Ridge got its first break on the next possession with a pass interference call on third-and-11 that angered the Kell coaches. Stanley, who rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries, scored on the next play, knotting it up at 7-7.
That score brought some relief, but the outcome was still in jeopardy until the game-deciding fumble on the kickoff. Odonkor made a great strip on the tackle and then Watts made his second major special teams play that didn't involve his usual specialty of kicking.
"We just didn't execute like we wanted to and we didn't start like we wanted to, but we finished like we wanted to," said Peachtree Ridge senior fullback Chris Sawdey, who had 12 rushes for 77 yards. "And we had a strong comeback in the fourth quarter."
The Lions initially tried to rest injured starting quarterback Nick Lombardo, but he entered after his team's second series and played the remainder of the game. A few other injuries, one to leading tackler Tanner Botts, piled up as the game played out.
A.J. McDonald had two tackles for losses and Brad Roby had an interception and a key fourth-down pass breakup to lead the Peachtree Ridge defense.
"They showed their heart tonight," Ballard said of his players. "We've got a senior team and they just refused to lose because (Kell) played their butts off."