ATLANTA — For the Lanier football team, the first time was the charm.
The Longhorns defeated Carver-Atlanta 26-7 in their first-ever playoff game — in just the program’s fourth season in existence — Friday night at Grady Stadium.
“This is a very special moment,” Lanier head coach Billy Wells said. “This was a great experience to go through this week and have a chance to play a quality opponent and come away with the win.”
After Lanier opened the game with a three and out, Carver showed off some of the big-play ability that Wells was worried about before the game as Gregory Payton took the Panthers’ first snap for a 48-yard run. However, the drive stalled after a bad snap put Carver in a third-and-long situation and the fake punt pass failed on fourth down. The Longhorn offense stalled once again, however, and this time it was a bad Carver snap on fourth down that resulted in a safety for Lanier.
After taking the ensuing kick, Lanier needed just four plays to set up a 26-yard touchdown pass from Canyon Cook to Devin Valentine to make the score 9-0.
“We were fortunate that the ball bounced our way early,” Wells said. “We were able to take advantage of some opportunities.”
The two teams then traded interceptions before Carver had its best drive of the game. The Panthers featured a balanced attack and had to overcome to costly penalties to drive 76 yards in 15 plays. Ed Curnery took the handoff on fourth down and ran it in for a one yard score to cut the Longhorn to 9-7.
The Longhorns responded with a solid drive of their own, highlighted by a 21-yard run by Tario Fuller after he recovered his quarterback’s fumble. Three plays later, and on fourth down no less, Cook found Valentine for their second touchdown on a 32-yard pass connection.
After Lanier failed convert a field goal attempt just before half, Carver came out to start the second half with a heavy run attack. The Panthers ran the ball six times all the way down to the Longhorns’ 20-yard line, but a personal foul put Carver in a hole and Lanier’s Michael Shaw made the hosts pay. Shaw intercepted Carver quarterback Jordan Holden and returned it all the way to the Carver 35. Five plays later Marcella Baity took a handoff 13 yards for a decisive touchdown, which made the score 23-7.
Lanier’s defense wasn’t quite done making big plays, however. After Carver took the kickoff all the way to the Longhorns’ 25, the Longhorns came up with another interception in the end zone.
“Carver has some tremendous playmakers,” Wells said. “So for our defense to come up with some turnovers and our offense to make some plays and keep them off the field was important.”
From that point, the game drug on as Carver racked up seven penalties for 80 yards in the game’s final 20 minutes, including five personal fouls. After Shaw’s second interception, Lanier used 30 of those penalty yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Ryan Edwards for the final score of the game and the 26-7 final.
“It’s a tremendous credit to these seniors and some graduated players we had in the stands for how we have built this program,” Wells said. “I am so proud of what we have accomplished and looking forward to the next challenge.”
Cook finished the game 9 of 16 for 123 yards and the two touchdowns. In addition to the 13-yard touchdown run, Baity also had four catches for 27 yards. Fuller led the Longhorns on the ground with 87 yards on 16 carries.
LANIER 26, CARVER 7
LANIER 9 7 7 3 - 26
CARVER 0 7 0 0 - 7
Lanier: Carver fumble recovered for safety 4:55
Lanier: Canyon Cook 26 pass to Devin Valentine (Ryan Edwards kick) 3:39
Carver: Ed Curner 4 run (Kentrell Barber kick) 6:09
Lanier: Cook 32 pass to Valentine (Edwards kick) 2:05
Lanier: Marcella Baity 13 run (Edwards kick) 6:17
Lanier: Edwards 37 kick 11:54