Lanier’s Tario Fuller (8) runs the ball against Chestatee earlier this season. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
Every week another first.
There was the first playoff berth, then the first playoff game, next the first playoff victory and now the first playoff home game this Friday.
Bubbling beneath these steps for the Lanier football program is now a rising sense of excitement for a still fledging fan base.
“It’s an exciting time for our community,” Lanier head coach and athletic director Billy Wells said. “I think the kids are starting to get the vibe going now in terms of the Lanier area and our community.”
Along with the team’s almost pathological short focus, the message this week for the Longhorns as they prepare to play Alexander in the second round of the playoffs was one of cohesion.
“This is kind of galvanizing for our community,” Wells said. “We are excited to be at home, that’s for sure. We are excited for our players and our fans to come to our home venue.”
On the field, there are no more surprises for the Longhorns. They played in plenty of close games during the season and now understand the rising intensity of the postseason.
“I would say the biggest thing that we learned is the level of competition, about what it really takes to win a playoff game,” Wells said. “I think our kids learned how to play at a higher level. We had one or two games this season that prepared us for that. But, the level of play that it takes to be successful was a big deal for us.”
Last week’s win, with 100 yards rushing from Tario Fuller and 141 passing yards from Canyon Cook, showed the balanced attack the Longhorns use and the defense stifled host Carver-Atlanta with plenty of pressure, allowing just one touchdown.
Against Alexander, the Longhorns won’t face a team with as high a big-play capacity, but rather a ground-based attack led by Mikell Lands-Davis, who comes into the game with 1,957 yards rushing and 22 of the team’s 27 rushing scores. The Cougars’ offense averages more than 200 yards a game on the ground.
“He certainly spearheads the offense. Any time you have a rushing attack getting near 2,000 yards, it’s not just one guy,” Wells said. “Their team has really progressed. They are a team that has improved week to week.”
Beyond the offensive line, Wells also praised Alexander’s leading receiver Brian Dansereau, who has 614 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
“They are a very talented offense,” Wells said.
It’s an older school, but Alexander mirrors Lanier with its newness to the postseason. This is the first time since 1997 the Douglas County school reached the playoffs and just the second time it’s won a postseason game. For Lanier, it’s all firsts.
“There are some similarities in our growth just watching them on film and watching us,” Wells said.
Alexander Cougars (5-AAAA)
Coach: Matthew Combs
Last week: Beat Dalton 13-10
Lanier Longhorns (8-AAAA)
Coach: Billy Wells
Last week: Beat Carver-Atlanta 26-7
Last meeting: First meeting
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Directions to Lanier High School: From I-85, go west on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and turn right onto Buford Highway. School is on the left.