chris.depew@gaflnews.com



VALDOSTA -- He might be too young to recall the "Fantastic Finishes" segment that was a mainstay of NFL telecasts in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But Lowndes High's Barrett Wilkes has been a part of several comebacks that rival any of the classics from the professional ranks.

The senior quarterback has 30 victories, over 5000 passing yards, recognition as the Region 1-AAAAA Offensive Player of the Year and a state title in his three years at the helm of the Vikings. But his calling card among Lowndes fans and foes alike is a penchant for leading the Vikings to several stirring comeback wins.

"I hope we don't have to do it anymore, but it's a good sign of great teams," said Wilkes.

With the exception of a 62-yard quarterback keeper in the final minute at Powder Springs-McEachern, Lowndes (11-1) and Wilkes didn't had any dramatic fourth-quarter rallies to their credit this season. That changed once the playoffs arrived. The Vikings had to score twice in the final 7:11 to overtake Griffin in the opening round. Last week versus Lovejoy, it took another late scoring drive for Lowndes to seize the lead for good.

More last-minute magic may be in store at Martin Stadium tonight when Lowndes hosts Suwanee-Collins Hill (9-3) in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. Kickoff is at 8 p.m.

But the game that clinched Wilkes' reputation as the comeback kid took place two years ago in the state semifinals at the Georgia Dome. Trailing Northside High of Warner Robins 28-3 at halftime, the Lowndes defense and special teams stiffened in the second half, setting the stage for a dramatic rally. Wilkes and the Vikings scored 28 unanswered points for a 31-28 win, setting up a state championship the following week.

"The coaches didn't yell at us, they didn't say anything (negative)," said Wilkes. "They just told us it was our game to win. We got a couple of scores and blocked a field goal, and luckily we won the game."

"That's got to be the biggest comeback, and that one was on statewide television so more people know about it," said Lowndes coach Milt Miller.

What fewer people across Georgia realized was that it took another late rally the previous week in Decatur for the Vikings to reach the Georgia Dome. Trailing 27-18 late in the fourth quarter, Wilkes engineered a touchdown drive to close within two points. Lowndes got the ball back on a blocked punt that eventually set up the game-winning field goal.

The fourth quarter magic went on display at home last year against region rival Colquitt County. Trailing 13-0 in the closing minutes, Wilkes and the Vikings scored a pair of touchdowns for another comeback, one that eventually made the difference in securing a playoff berth for Lowndes.

So what goes through Wilkes' mind when the fourth quarter arrives and his team needs to rally?

"The main thing is just trying to get the ball into the end zone or into field goal range," he said. "There's a little bit of nervousness, but that's just a part of playing the game.

"You always have to have that mentality that you're going to score. And if they score also, you believe that you're going to score next. It's just doing it over and over again until it gets to be a habit."

When the Vikings trail late in a game, Lowndes fans naturally gravitate to the edge of their seats. But they do so now with as much or more anticipation of another miracle than worry of a setback.

"You do kind of get that feeling, especially the last couple of weeks," said Wilkes. "Now (opponents) might know about it, but before they probably thought they were safe, thought we had given up. Now they might have a lot of doubts about their fourth quarter leads."

"Everybody involved with the team still believes we've got a chance, including the fans" said Miller. "Our players believe that we're never out of it. It works on your opponents too, knowing that (when) you get a little momentum going in the fourth quarter that they might be had.

"Hopefully we can keep that up."

Not if the captain of comebacks has his way.

"





Hopefully we won't have to do that anymore," he said.

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