Lanier’s Ricky Viengxay (30) and Trevon McSwain (81) take down a Chestatee receiver during the second half of Friday’s game at Lanier. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
SUGAR HILL — After several escapes throughout its important Region 8-AAAA game with Chestatee, Lanier found one predicament it couldn’t quite get out of.
A blocked punt and return with 3:52 left in regulation allowed the visiting War Eagles to send the game into overtime.
And after holding strong most of the evening, the Longhorns’ defense finally broke when Wyatt Burgess dove in from 3 yards out in the second extra period to lift Chestatee to a 20-17 win Friday night.
It was a bitter homecoming pill to swallow for the Longhorns (5-2, 2-2), who fell into a tie for the No. 3 seed in the region, pending the outcome of games involving Stephens County, Eastside, Madison County and Lumpkin County, with Lanier squaring off with Stephens County in a critical game next week.
“We talked to our kids all week long about maturity,” Lanier coach Billy Wells said after the game. “Certainly, (Friday) night is one of those nights we can learn from. We certainly feel like we’ve got our playoff shot in front of us. We’ve just got to go out and take care of business.”
Both defenses took care of business throughout the evening, particularly Chestatee (6-1, 4-0), which held Lanier to just 115 total yards.
Though the Longhorns began to wear down in the second half, when the War Eagles amassed 118 of their 207 yards on the night, they too held firm most of the night.
But it was a special teams miscue with Lanier clinging to a 7-0 lead with less than four minutes to play that turned the game around.
Chestatee got pressure up the middle to get a hand on a punt, and William Fayson grabbed the ball out of midair and returned it 15 yards for a score that tied the game at 7-all with 3:52 left in regulation.
“When you have a tight ball game, it comes down to one or two plays,” Wells said. “We’ve got to learn to execute those. Part of our growth and maturity is when you’re in a game like this, you have to make those plays.
“We’ll have to go back and watch the film. The snap looked pretty good to me. It looks like they may have gotten a guy through in the interior, but we’ll have to go back and make sure.”
Still, Lanier had life, and nearly came up with a huge play in the first overtime when a big hit on Tray Bryant, who led all runners with 87 yards, knocked the ball loose into the end zone.
However, Khalil Cantrell pounced on the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown that put Chestatee in front 14-7.
Lanier answered and forced a second extra frame when Canyon Cook found a wide open Timothy Leazer in the left corner of the end zone for an 11-yard scoring strike to knot the score at 14-apiece.
But a sack on third down on the next possession forced the Longhorns to settle for Mason Harwood’s 40-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead.
And the Lanier defense, which had been solid all night, including holding on three separate fourth-down situations, finally gave way.
Burgess, who ran for 56 yards on 14 carries, found enough room on the left side of the line to dive into the end zone from 3 yards out for the decisive score that gave the War Eagles the win.
“Certainly the miscues we had (Friday) night are things we’ve got to learn from,” Wells said. “We’ve still got our goals intact. So, we’ll come back Monday and get to work.”
The only offense of the first half came on the game’s first possession, and even then, Lanier needed the help of a 15-yard roughing the punter penalty to keep the drive alive before coming up with a clutch play to end it.
Facing fourth and 13 at the Chestatee 31-yard line, Cook lofted a pass towards a well-covered Devin Valentine in the right corner of the end zone.
And the senior receiver hauled in the well-placed throw for a 31-yard touchdown that put the Longhorns up 7-0 with 7:07 left in the first quarter.
The War Eagles weren’t as fortunate on fourth-down conversions, with the Lanier defense twice stiffening to force turnovers on downs.
One of those came at the Lanier 30 after a bad snap led to a fumble that set Chestatee up at the 37 with 2:38 left in the half.
The Longhorns had to dodge another bullet after Justin Spears’ interception and 29-yard return gave Chestatee a first down at the Lanier 24 with 9.2 seconds left.
This time, a 7-yard sack by Michael Shaw pushed Eddy Zamora’s field goal attempt back to 48 yards, which came up just short as time expired, allowing the Longhorns to head into intermission holding onto the 7-0 lead.