Peachtree Ridge’s Jordan Ellis (1) gets a push from teammate Na’ceem Antenor (20) as he muscles into the endzone for a touchdown in the first quarter against Lassiter. (Photo: Kelly J. Huff)
MARIETTA — The anticipated shootout looked like it was developing in the early stages of the first-round Class AAAAAA state playoff game between Peachtree Ridge and Lassiter.
But a defensive adjustment and the relentless running of Jordan Ellis turned it into a rout.
The Virginia-bound running back ran for 250 of his 262 yards in the first half and wound up with six touchdowns on the evening, while the defense allowed the Trojans just one score after the first quarter as the Lions rolled to a 59-20 win Friday night at Frank Fillmann Stadium.
Ellis’ big night, in which he broke his own school record for touchdowns in a single game, helped Peachtree Ridge (8-3) overcome a strong performance for Lassiter, and former Wesleyan, quarterback Will Anderson (26-54-1, 299 yards, 3 TDs) and advance to the second round, in which the Lions will travel to Dacula next Friday.
“We had a great week of practice, so I kind of saw this coming,” said Ellis, who gained his yardage on 23 carries. “I had a lot of confidence going into the game. Our coaches said it all starts with practice, and we had a lot of confidence coming into the game. We wanted to show everybody what Gwinnett football is all about.”
The two teams traded scores in rapid-fire succession in the first quarter, with Lassiter (7-4) striking first on Anderson’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Perdue just three plays and 23 seconds into the game.
But Ellis broke off a 47-yard run Peachtree Ridge’s first play from scrimmage and a 27-yarder on fourth and 10 on the Trojans’ 30, setting up his own 3-yard TD dive that helped the Lions answer just 23 seconds later to even the score at 7-7.
After an exchange of punts, the two defense were at it again.
This time, Anderson capped a 14-play, 76-yard drive with a 26-yard scoring strike to Blake Wilson on fourth and 8 to put Lassiter back in front 14-7 with 4:02 left in the first quarter.
But it took Peachtree Ridge just three plays and 38 seconds to answer again.
This time, Chance Thrasher connected on a swing pass out in the flat to Tyler Campbell, who took advantage of a seal block on the end, broke a tackle and was gone down the sideline for a 65-yard TD to tie the game again at 14-14 with 3:20 left in the opening frame.
“They know how to score,” Peachtree Ridge coach Mark Fleetwood said of Lassiter. “It was huge (to quickly answer the Trojans’ scores). That first touchdown they scored, and we come back in seconds. Jordan ran the ball and our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, and that was good. And I thought Chance Thrasher managed the game really well.
“We sort of went into (the game) with that idea (of getting the ball to Ellis), not knowing what the weather would be like.”
That’s when the Lions’ defense began to assert itself, forcing a Lassiter punt which Ellis eventually turned into a 14-yard scoring run that put Peachtree Ridge in front 21-14 with 17 seconds left in the opening frame.
That momentum continued in to the second quarter as the Lions put on a relentless pass rush that sacked Anderson three times for combined losses of 18 yards.
“(Defensive Coordinator Philip) Hale did a good job just changing up his blitzes and getting to (Anderson),” Fleetwood said. “He switched them up, and we found one that worked. So, we went back to it a couple of times, and we were able to get the pressure on him. That was important because he gets the ball out of his hand really quick.”
And the Lions’ took advantage, with Mailk Robinson scoring on a 14-yard run on a reverse and Ellis adding two more scores on runs of 78 yards and 1 yard, and Evan Pantels chipped in with a 44-yard field goal.
When the dust settled, only another TD pass from Anderson to Perdue interrupted a run of 38 Peachtree Ridge points that helped the Lions roll into intermission with a 45-20 lead
And when Lassiter clogged up the middle to try to slow down Ellis in the second half, Thrasher and the Lions’ offense simply went around the Trojans.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior completed four passes for 65 yards on a 10-play, 65-yard drive that set up another Ellis TD, this one from a yard out, that pushed the lead to 52-20 with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
Ellis then capped his night with a 3-yard scoring run with 3:33 left in the quarter, and the Lions had all but put the game away at 59-20.