BETHLEHEM —If the performance of Lanier’s Tario Fuller and his teammates against Apalachee is any indication, both are primed for an exciting season.
Fuller rushed for 161 yards on 20 carries and four touchdowns, including three in the first quarter, as visiting Lanier jumped on Apalachee early and pulled away in the teams’ opener for an impressive a 42-14 win at R. Harold Harrison Stadium in Bethlehem Friday night.
The Longhorns, looking to avenge a 21-11 loss to the Wildcats last year, wasted little time taking control. On the third play from scrimmage, Canyon Cook lofted a pass to a wide-open Devin Valentine down the sideline for a 65-yard TD and quick 7-0 lead.
“We talked a lot about last year when they scored on the first play against us,” Lanier head coach Billy Wells said of the fast start. “We stressed how important it is to get off to a good start. I’m proud of the team for listening to that and turning it around tonight.”
Fuller then announced his presence. After an Apalachee punt, Fuller burst off the right side and galloped 52 yards for a TD and 14-0 Longhorns lead. Following an Apalachee fumble, Fuller ran 3 yards for his second TD to extend the lead to 21-0 with 3:19 left in the opening quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Apalachee’s Jody Mathis raced 94 yards for a TD to carve the lead to 21-7. Lanier’s Ashton Barnes answered with a long kickoff return of his own to the Apalachee 20-yard line. Fuller capped the drive five plays later with his third TD on a 1-yard scamper to push the advantage to 28-7 with 2:01 still remaining in the first quarter.
“Tario comes into the season as the leading returning rusher in Gwinnett,”, said Wells of Fuller. “He showed why tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of his attitude and effort. He’s a workhorse.”
The Wildcats countered with a vintage Apalachee drive, marching 80 yards in seven plays highlighted by a 36-yard run by Alante Billings. Justin Skinner powered 3 yards for a TD to half the lead to 28-14.
Doomed by five lost fumbles, that was as close as the Wildcats would get.
“We do ball handling drills all the time,” said Apalachee head coach Shane Davis, “And we go live as much as any team I know. We don’t drop it in practice, but did last week against Elbert and again tonight. We simply have to get better.”
Cook added a TD rushing on a 28-yard jaunt before half, and Fuller scored his fourth TD of the game on a 4-yard run midway through the fourth quarter to provide the final margin.
Lanier 42, Apalachee 14
Lanier 28 . 7 . 0 . 7 . — 42
Apalachee 7 . 7 . 0 . 0 . — 14
Lanier: Devin Valentine 65 pass from Canyon Cook (Ryan Edwards kick) 11:01
Lanier: Tario Fuller 52 run (Edwards kick) 3:37
Lanier: Fuller 3 run (Edwards kick) 3:19
Apalachee: Jody Mathis 94 kick return (Carlos Canelas kick) 3:04
Lanier: Fuller 1 run (Edwards kick) 2:01
Apalachee: Justin Skinner 3 run (Canelas kick) 11:01
Lanier: Cook 28 run (Edwards kick) 5:57
Lanier: Fuller 4 run (Edwards kick) 8:25