The Valdosta Daily Times
Lowndes football has been predicated on running the ball and playing strong defense for years. On Friday night that philosophy provided the Vikings with yet another signature victory. This time a 23-18 win over the Lovejoy Wildcats in the second round of the AAAAAA playoffs.
The Vikings contained Lovejoy's Tennessee recruit Preston Williams to the tune of five catches for 155 yards and a touchdown. To put things in perspective, Williams torched Marietta for 275 yards and four touchdowns in Lovejoy's first round match-up a week ago.
Lowndes' strength has been along its line, both offensive and defensive, and those lines flexed their muscles once again in a game where the Vikings never trailed.
"We're just practicing hard," said Vikings offensive lineman Dyshon Sims. "We're going hard in practice and watching a lot of film."
The Vikings had as much control of the game through the first half as a team could reasonably have in 17-12 ball game heading into the locker rooms.
Lowndes had 212 yards of offense in the first half, led by Jerome Daniels' 70 yards on seven carries. The Vikings seemingly ran at will with penalties and three fumbles — two of which were recovered, the other was returned for a touchdown — as the only thing slowing them down.
On the defensive side of the ball, despite playing against an offensive line consisting of three seniors and two juniors, the Vikings defensive line had their way with the Wildcats.
Lovejoy's runs were consistently snuffed out quickly and quarterback Quintarius Neely was under duress.
In the first half, Lowndes defense's only mistake was an 80-yard touchdown allowed on a bomb down field to the 6-foot-5 Williams.
Lowndes held the Wildcats to three yards rushing and no completions other than the score.
The time of possession in the first quarter overwhelmingly favored the Vikings. The Wildcats' two drives spanned a total of three minutes and 20 seconds while the Vikings held the ball for six minutes and 17 seconds on their 13-play touchdown drive that culminated with an Alex Brown touchdown on a pitch from six yards out.
Lowndes' second drive spanned three and a half minutes and ran into the second quarter.
The third drive of the game wasn't as much as a grind as the first two. It was a track meet.
Arvin Berry exploded up the middle for 10 yards on the first play of the drive. Ahmad Sneed added 14 more on the next play.
After a broken play in a fumbled snap, Jerome Daniels broke through the line of scrimmage then broke to the outside for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-0 lead with 8:27 to play in the half.
With Lowndes' domination up to this point, it would have been understandable to expect a blowout, but as Lovejoy has shown all year, they wouldn't go down easily.
On the Wildcats first play of the ensuing drive, Neely found Lovejoy's game-breaking weapon Williams for an 80-yard bomb down the center of the field to narrow the gap. The Vikings blocked the extra point to keep the score to 14-6.
Lovejoy found the end zone again 41 seconds later as Eric Hart was stripped by Brandon Williams, who returned the ball 26 yards for a touchdown. Another missed extra point later, the score was 14-12 with Lowndes holding onto a razor-slim lead.
The Vikings ballooned their lead again before halftime with a 40-yard field goal from Nick Hart.
After halftime, both teams traded punts on each of their first possessions in the third quarter.
Lowndes was able to strike first in the second half thanks to Brown, who broke a long run and eluded multiple tacklers for a 30-yard gain. A few plays later, Nick Hart hit the field goal to push Lowndes' lead to 20-12.
Lovejoy responded by driving the ball down to the Vikings' 30, but Brian Bell brought down Neely on third down to force a 4th and 11. Neely tossed up a ball to Williams in the end zone, but Brown had excellent coverage on the play, making the pass fall incomplete.
"We just tried to guard (Williams) hard and do what we practiced," said Brown.
With the ball back, Lowndes returned to what they did best in this game, gash Lovejoy on the ground and run the clock.
The Vikings took the ball 67 yards in four and a half minutes, eventually making it to Lovejoy's three-yard line before Nick Hart added his third field goal of the night to give Lowndes a 23-12 advantage with just under nine minutes in the game.
Once again, the Wildcats did not go down without a fight. Lovejoy would drive the ball down to Lowndes' five-yard line and converted on a 4th and 1. Jeremiah Kirkland dragged Bell into the end zone from two yards out to make it a one-score game.
On the ensuing drive, the Vikings went three-and-out, but luckily, a face mask on a third and a long run gave Lowndes a first down. Three runs later, the Wildcats had one more shot at winning the game.
With under three minutes left in the game, and 60 yards separating Lovejoy from advancing to a semi-final game, Neely overthrew Williams and the ball was picked off by Eric Hart who downed the ball at mid-field.
"After we lost to Moultrie, we've become a better team," said Hart. "We're just getting better, working together, good chemistry."
From there the Vikings just needed to run the clock out to secure a third-round playoff game next week against Norcross.