South Gwinnett’s Cory Keel (10) fumbles the ball after gettinghit by Lincoln’s Travis Hearns (19) during Saturday’s game. Keel went on to recover the ball. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
NORCROSS — With only five returning starters from last year’s 9-3 squad, South Gwinnett head coach John Small knew this season would begin with a young and largely inexperienced group.
On Saturday afternoon in the ESPN High School Kickoff at Norcross High School, that young group ran into a rough patch late in the first half and couldn’t overcome it. The Comets fell 34-21 to Lincoln, the Class AAAAAAA runner-up in Florida last year.
The early portion of the game saw both teams go back and forth with South getting a pair of touchdown runs from Daivon Harris and Lincoln scoring twice, knotting the game at 14-14 midway through the second.
But Lincoln took advantage of a couple of South miscues to score 17 straight points in the final 5:36 of the first half, putting the Comets (0-1) in a 31-14 hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“We didn’t help ourselves out during that stretch with turnovers and giving them the ball in good field position,” Small said. “But we’ve got to learn to respond in those situations. Lincoln is a great football team and they took advantage of what we gave them.”
That 17-0 run started with a bit of good luck for the Trojans (1-0) when Brian Crews’ 33-yard field goal ricocheted in off the right upright with 5:36 left before half to go up 17-14.
The Lincoln defense stiffened on the ensuing possession and forced South to punt, giving the Trojans the ball on its own 30.
Lincoln needed just three plays to cover the 70 yards, getting a huge 53-yard pass from quarterback Darius Harvery to John Burt. Harvery would then close out the quick drive with a 17-yard scramble for a TD for and a 24-14 lead.
South again went three-and-out, giving Lincoln the ball back with just 25 seconds left at its own 48. South looked like it was going to escape the half without any further damage, but Harvery’s scrambling allowed him to find a wide open Burt on the goal line for a 47-yard TD as time expired in the half.
Harvery accounted for most of the offense for Lincoln, throwing for 174 yards and two TDs on 9 of 16 attempts, while rushing 11 times for 68 yards and two scores.
Burt also caught four passes for 130 yards and two TDs.
The game could have easily turned into a blowout, but South responded in the opening possession of the second half by going 56 yards on seven plays for a TD.
Malik Brown, making his first start at quarterback, finished off that drive with a 6-yard TD pass to Antonio Woods, who did a nice job of keeping his feet in bounds in the back right corner.
Woods’ TD catch cut the score to 31-21, and after South stopped Lincoln on a fake punt on the ensuing possession, the Comets were in position for another drive.
Starting at its own 36, South worked its way to the Lincoln 14 before stalling. Roberto Lindsay came in for a 32-yard field goal, but the attempt was blocked, leaving South down by 10.
Lincoln tacked on another field goal from Crews for its only points in the second half with 6:33 left to play, leaving it a two-possession game at 34-21. South had two more possessions, but each of those ended with interceptions.
“Our kids could have laid down but we challenged them at halftime,” Small said. “One thing I found out about them is that they will fight. We’re young and we made some mistakes, which is no excuse, but I am really proud of the resiliency they showed in the second half.”
Brown’s starting debut ended with 155 yards and one TD on 9 of 19 attempts with two interceptions. Josh Shim also saw some action in the fourth quarter, nearly leading the Comets to a late TD before being picked off in the end zone. Shim tallied 74 yards on 5 of 12 passes with one interception.
Neither team had much success running the ball as South totalled 117 yards on the ground, led by 48 yards on 14 carries from Isaiah Robinson. Lincoln finished with 155 yards on the ground, boosted by 67 yard on 16 carries from Matthew Donaldson.
South also had eight different players catch at least one pass, led by 86 yards on three receptions from Ian Killian. Dominique Jackson added two catches for 55 yards, while Coray Keel caught two balls for 30 yards.
Lincoln 14 . 17 . 0 . 3 - 34
South 7 . 7 . 7 . 0 - 21
South: Daivon Harris 1 run (Roberto Lindsay kick) 7:36
Lincoln: Darius Harvery 1 run (Brian Crews kick) 3:02
Lincoln: John Burt 15 pass from Harvery (Crews kick) 1:27
South: Harris 3 run (Lindsay kick) 9:25
Lincoln: Crews 33 FG, 5:36
Lincoln: Harvery 17 run (Crews kick) 1:38
Lincoln: Burt 47 pass from Harvery (Crews kick) :00
South: Antonio Woods 6 pass from Malik Brown (Lindsay kick) 9:19
Lincoln: Crews 34 FG, 6:33
First downs 10 18
Rushes-yards 32-155 34-117
Passing yards 174 155
Comp-Att-INT 9-16-0 14-32-3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 8-75 8-70
RUSHING - Lincoln: Donaldson 16-67; Favors 3-7; Williams 1-2; Burt 1-11; Harvery 11-68. South: Robinson 14-48;
Harris 3-5; Woods 2-22; Shim 2-4; Brown 13-38.
PASSING - Lincoln: Harvery 9-16-0, 174. South: Brown 9-19-2, 157; Shim 5-12-1, 74; Killian 0-1-0, 0.
RECEIVING - Lincoln: Favors 1-6; Carrigan 1-5; Burt 4-130; Johnson 1-18; McDaniel 1-5; Donaldson 1-10. South:
Killian 3-86; Robinson 1-13; Jackson 3-55; Keel 2-30; Woods 2-1, Buckmire 1-4; Shah 1-27; Hussey 1-17.