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Tigers take big step toward school's first playoff berth

LILBURN -- Ernest Alexander made sure his dagger stayed.

The Archer running back appeared to put the game away with his first carry of the second half when he broke a tackle in the backfield and then shot down the sideline to give the Tigers a 23-0 lead over Parkview.

Just in case, he finished the Panthers off in the fourth quarter with a 70-yard sprint on a run up the middle.

In the end, Alexander rushed for 227 yards and four touchdowns as Archer dismantled Region 8-AAAAA foe Parkview 40-16, putting the young school a win away from its first playoff appearance.

"This is the biggest game in our history to this point and it just makes next week even bigger," Archer head coach Andy Dyer said of his team, which plays South Gwinnett on Friday and will make the playoffs with either a win or a Parkview loss. "We just have to take care of ourselves. I'd rather be in this position than in the other end."

Friday's was a game Dyer called the biggest in the history of the Archer program and his Tigers certainly rose to the challenge. On a wet field with rain falling much of the game, Archer dominated both lines of scrimmage. They threw, and completed, just one pass, and it was an inside shovel that went for two yards. More importantly, Archer held onto the ball. Parkview had two poor snaps on punts that led to Archer points and fumbled the ball two other times, leading to two Tigers touchdowns.

"Fortunately we were able to control the line of scrimmage and it came out good on our end," Dyer said.

Jermaine Morris sacked Parkview quarterback Jack Esmonde four times, leading to minus-69 yards rushing for the senior. The Tigers' defense stopped Parkview twice when the Panthers had first-and-goal inside the five, two of four Parkview turnovers on downs. Panther running back Chris Carson ended the game with 198 yards rushing, but 80 came on a fourth-quarter touchdown run long after Alexander's final dagger.

"He can run between the tackles and he is good when he gets out on the edge as well," Dyer said of Alexander. "He is just a good back. He played a great game."

But when the game started, it didn't look that way.

On its opening drive, Parkview appeared capable of doing whatever it wanted. The Panthers marched all the way down to the 4-yard line before Archer's defense kept them out of the end zone and forced the first of two first-half turnovers on downs. It was the first of two Parkview drives in the half that ended with no points after the Panthers had first-and-goal from inside the 5.

And for the rest of the half, it was all Archer.

The Tigers fumbled on the Parkview goal line, to put an end to an impressive drive, but the Panthers fumbled the ball right back on the next play. From there, Alexander punched the ball in from four yards out for his first touchdown.

Archer forced a three-and-out on Parkview's next possession and again the wet conditions bit the Panthers when the long snap sailed over the punter's head for a safety.

Archer scored on the next possession in one play when Alexander ripped off a 59-yard score, breaking a tackle near the line of scrimmage before sprinting into the open field.

Parkview looked to score right before the half, moving the ball down to 2-yard line on three long completions by Esmonde. But two false starts, a hold and a sack eventually moved Parkview back to the 45-yard line before the drive ended with another failed fourth-down conversion. And the half ended with Archer up 16-0.

Then came the second half. And the lopsided final.

After a big opening kickoff, Alexander landed the big blow for his third touchdown, a sign Archer was not content with playing a good half.

"That was big," Dyer said. "Right there, it was a tight ball game. All it takes is, we've got a wet ball on a wet field and a quick turnover and they are right back in the ball game. Those were huge points."

And from 23-0, Parkview was left playing catchup. The closest the Panthers got came when they scored to make it 23-8 when Carson banged into the end zone from the 1. But Archer kicked a field goal to start the fourth quarter and Alexander ripped off his big run. Archer scored its final touchdown when Morris, instead of another sack, picked up a fumble on the six and fell into the end zone.

"This is just the next step for us," Dyer said. "The kids are learning what it takes to compete and get ready each week. That's not easy, it's something you have to grind out."