Lanier running back Tario Fuller (8) turns the corner as he runs by Madison County's Tad Wilson (20) during Friday's game.
SUGAR HILL -- Since starting the Lanier football program three years ago, head coach Billy Wells had been waiting for this day.
Facing Madison County in their first Region 8-AAAA contest on Friday night, it looked as if the Longhorns were going to have their hearts broken -- only to rip away a 14-7 win over the Red Raiders.
Tied 7-7 late in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns had just let another scoring chance slip away with their third missed field goal of the night with 5:01 left to play.
The Red Raiders took over on their own 20 and stormed down the field behing the running of quarterback T.J. Skelton and running back Keidrick Curry.
The two backs guided Madison County all the way to the Longhorn 8 with just under three minutes left to play when the tide quickly turned.
On first-and-goal from the Longhorn 8-yard line, Curry took a handoff and plunged forward, only to be stuffed in huge scrum of Lanier defenders.
The pile never really stopped moving and no official blew a whistle. As the pile continued to meander, Lanier's Ricky Viengxay emerged from the melee and raced 90 yards for the game-winning score with 2:26 left to play.
"(The Red Raiders) were working the veer option and we jammed them up inside," Wells said. "Ricky just took the ball from him and ran the other way."
Viengxay's TD fumble return was almost poetic justice as the Longhorns had to overcome not only three missed field goals but also four turnovers.
"Sometimes that's the way it works with young teams," Wells said. "We had those four turnovers and three missed kicks but we talked a lot about believing in each other and backing each other up."
Madison County (0-4, 0-1) had one last chance at a comeback on the ensuing possession, but that drive ended after just four plays when Austin Westfall picked off Skelton to seal the win.
Westfall's interception was the third turnover forced by the Longhorns' defense, which had two picks and one fumble recovery.
Offensively, Lanier (3-1, 1-0) did a nice job of moving the ball most of the night, led by sophomore running back Tario Fuller, who finished with 162 yards on 22 carries.
Bernard Nuckles also chipped in with 36 yards on nine carries but was limited in the second half with an ankle injury, forcing Fuller to carry the offensive load.
"He's an extremely hard runner and carried us in the second half," Wells said.
Despite the strong running game, the turnovers caught up to Lanier. After dodging their first two miscues in the first quarter, Madison County finally cashed in when Bo Hardman's interception set up the first scoring drive of the game.
Madison County needed just four plays to cover 29 yards, ending when Skelton stretched in from two yards out. Skelton was a workhorse for Madison County and finished with 106 rushing yards on 27 carries, while adding 80 yards through the air on 11 of 17 passes with two interceptions.
Skelton's score in the first quarter gave the Red Raiders a 7-0 lead that stood at the half but was quickly erased in the third when the Longhorns took the opening kick of the second half and drove 73 yards on six plays, converting a fourth-and-six when quarterback Taylor Grant hooked up with Onyx Berrios for a 28-yard TD pass.
From that point, Lanier had numerous missed opportunites with a TD called back on a penalty and two missed field goals before Viengxay's heroics gave Lanier its first region win in its first region game.
"They're probably not really thinking about it right now, but from a historical perspective, there will be a time when we'll look back and see just how great it was to get our first region win," Wells said.