VALDOSTA -- Collins Hill ran the ball well. Lowndes didn't.
If you are looking to dissect the Eagles' 21-14 upset in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals Friday night, those facts are the best place to start.
The Vikings (11-2) gained 21-yards on a Barrett Wilkes quarterback draw after a clipping call produced a first-and-25 situation in the third quarter. Junior lineman Justin Smith tacked on another 29 yards with a well-executed fumblerooski on fourth down late in the game.
Otherwise, Collins Hill (10-3) shut down the running game completely. Lowndes produced only 39 yards on its remaining 19 rushing attempts, none of which gained more than nine yards or resulted in a first down. Besides Wilkes and Smith, the only other Viking to carry the ball was tailback Darrin Richardson, who was held to 24 yards on 12 carries.
By the time the Vikings got the ball in the second half, Collins Hill led 21-0, forcing Lowndes to virtually abandon the ground game. The Vikings ran the ball only seven times after intermission, including a pair of sacks.
Richardson also played on defense Friday, as he had since late September. Despite the double duty, backups Demetrius Henry and Freeman Stephens never got a carry.
"We knew we were going to need the one back (offense) to keep them spread out," said Lowndes coach Milt Miller. "We didn't talk about (substituting)."
After spreading the wealth in the backfield during the regular season, Lowndes banked heavily on Richardson in the postseason. The senior had 59 carries in three postseason games, compared to five attempts combined for Henry and Stephens.
Conversely, the Eagles distributed the ball to seven different players, three of whom had 12 carries apiece. Sophomore quarterback Tim Gray finished with a game-high 86 yards on the strength of a 63-yard scramble that set up the winning touchdown. But despite not having a dominant runner, Collins Hill rolled up 206 yards on the ground.
PUNTING NOT A PROBLEM: Along with its reputation for run defense, Collins Hill is known for its ability to block kicks and disrupt special teams, something that Lowndes had already struggled with in the playoffs.
But despite being pressed into frequent duty, Brad Robinson had perhaps his best game of the season for the Vikings. The senior punter got all seven kicks away cleanly for a 35-yard net average. Included in that total were two 44-yard efforts as well as a 41-yard boot, all in the first half.
One thing that may have helped keep the heat of Robinson was an unusual punt formation. Lowndes left large gaps in the front line to drop back three protectors around Robinson. It looked odd from the stands but was effective.
SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR: Despite the lopsided offensive numbers, Lowndes came tantalizingly close to pulling off a miracle on its next-to-last drive.
After recovering a fumble at the Eagles 41, the Vikings tried a hook-and-lateral with Andy Gay and Richardson, but gained only four yards. Facing fourth-and-3 from near midfield, Lowndes gained new life with Smith's fumblerooski, a play that was whistled dead against Valdosta earlier in the year.
Lowndes ran into trouble when a holding call negated a 15-yard completion to Zach Parker. The Vikings were hoping for a pass interference call on the next play when Darrin Richardson was hit late, but the play was ruled a dead foul personal foul, wiping out any hope of an automatic first down. Cory Clemons was brought down a yard short of the marker on the next play, ending the last best hope for the Vikings.
"We got the first down called back and that was big," said Miller. "The difference in winning and losing is so minute. When you get two good teams playing, it's always going to come down to two big plays, three big plays. That was a big one there at the end, but that's football."
PARTY CRASHERS: Collins Hill will have a far shorter commute next week from Gwinnett County, but the Eagles may still be wide-eyed in the Georgia Dome.
CHHS had never been to the quarterfinals before Friday, and will now be the only
Class AAAAA neophyte next weekend. Parkview won last year's state championship, VHS went all the way in 1998 and Northside-Warner Robins made the dome in 1999, ironically losing to Lowndes.
SENIOR SALUTE: Besides Gay, Richardson, Robinson and Wilkes, 17 other Lowndes seniors ended their football careers Friday: Joseph Stokes, Chris Simpson, Marcus Griffin, Andre Lucas, Jesse Bush, Funtaine Hunter, Jojoshua Davis, Matt Lucas, Matt McCullar, Josh Worley, J. Ryce Martin, Cory Bunte, Jean-Paul Cassagnol, Demetrius Hester, Daniel Matchett and Rick Zeigler.
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