Lanier’s Ashton Barnes reaches out to try and make a catch during last week’s game against Chestatee. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
There’s no denying the impact.
Last week’s double overtime loss to Chestatee hit as hard as any in the short history of the Lanier football program. For the one of the few times, there were expectations and hopes. There was the big carrot of the playoffs.
The game was what is expected of those: Competitive. And when games are close, they get distilled from 48 minutes into just a few seconds.
But that’s in the moment. Looking back and beyond the sting of the disappointment, coach Billy Wells used the game as a lesson, a message of hope rung out over the weekend. Despair diminished.
“The way the game ended was not exactly what we wanted,” Wells said. “There were a lot of positives that we were able to watch over the weekend.
“We talk a lot about mental toughness.”
Above all, that’s what the Longhorns get an opportunity to show Friday against Stephens County. The loss didn’t eliminate those lofty playoff hopes, but this game becomes paramount. Lanier is locked in a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots with Stephens County and Eastide, a team the Lonhorns already beat. A win doesn’t guarantee the postseason, but it brightens the possibility.
But for Wells, the longterm belongs in the stands. He wants his team’s vision on the immediate.
“They are a worthy opponent,” Well said. “Watching film from Game 1 till now, they continue to improve every week. I think it will be another tight ballgame with them.”
Last year, the Longhorns lost by nine, but now Lanier brings more savvy and maturity.
Just from last week, there were lessons on close games.
“When you are playing a tight ball game, we talk about how you have success in tight ball games to equal success on the scoreboard,” Wells said of his conversations with his team this week. “From a mental toughness standpoint, you re-engage yourself back in practice and have camaraderie with your teammates, focus on the small things. The here and now, rather than the big picture.”
With Stephens County, Lanier won’t face a defense as dominating as what Chestatee brought to Sugar Hill, holding the Longhorns to 115 yards of offense, but the Indians offense has scored more than 30 points in three of its four wins.
“They are pretty balanced on offense and defense,” Wells said.” They are a solid defense, I don’t know if you can look at averages and numbers.”
That’s not what Wells examines. When he looked at the Chestatee game through the objective lens of the camera, he saw players like Timothy Leazer making catches and executing during critical points in the game.
“I am proud of him for the moments he had to make a play, he did,” Well said. “Those are the things in tight ball games that make a difference.”
Stephens County Indians (8-AAAA)
Coach: Travis Nolan
Record: 4-3, 2-2 region
Last week: Beat Madison County 35-13
Lanier Longhorns (8-AAAA)
Coach: Billy Wells
Record: 5-2, 2-2 region
Last week: Lost 20-14 in double overtime to Chestatee
Last meeting: Stephens County won 27-18 last year.
Directions to Lanier High School: From I-85, go west on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and turn right on Buford Highway. School is on the left.