VALDOSTA –– A year ago, Lowndes players found themselves in tears after being unable to defeat their semifinal opponent and having their season end just short of making a state championship appearance.
Friday, Lowndes defeated North Gwinnett 49-28 in the 7A semifinals to advance to the state championship game.
Facing one of the best offenses in the state, Lowndes decided to put its own offense on display—scoring 28 points in the first quarter and 42 in the half.
It was sparked by a 95-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback Jacurri Brown to open scoring for the game.
Brown broke through the line-of-scrimmage, sprinted down the field and made about five or six Bulldogs miss as he trotted to the end zone.
It was the tone-setter for the Vikings, but just the start.
Justin Lee had a 43-yard rushing touchdown, Dominique Marshall had a 48-yard touchdown reception and Brown rushed for a 51-yard score as the Vikings took a 28-7 lead in the first quarter.
“We’ve been doing this since January man,” Brown said after the game. “Football takes a whole year out of your life. It’s really worth it. We’re going to state and not many people can say that. Four teams are playing right now but only two of them are going to state and that’s us. That’s special.”
Brown finished 10-of-21 for 168 yards and three touchdowns through the air and picked up 200 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts from the ground.
With Lowndes playing with the lead early in the game, it unleashed the defense to cause havoc on the Bulldogs.
The Vikings forced North Gwinnett into repeated third-and-long situations and were able to pressure them into scoreless possessions.
The best defense is a good offense and Lowndes’ offense allowed the Concrete Curtain to operate at maximum power.
“Offensively, they put pressure on them from the start of the game and allowed us to do some things defensively,” defensive coordinator Byron Slack said. “The way our offense went out there and put pressure right from the start allowed us defensively to do the same. We put some pressure on them.”
After two more touchdowns in the second quarter, Lowndes led 42-14 going into the break but North Gwinnett wouldn't go away quietly.
They attacked the Vikings out of the half, forcing Lowndes to punt three of their first four drives and forced a fumble on the fourth drive.
The Lowndes offense grew cold after their hot start and left the door open for the Bulldogs shimmer of hope.
The Bulldogs showed resiliency by converting two down-and-distance plays and turning them into touchdown drives to make it 42-28.
But that’s when Lowndes found the end zone that had escaped them throughout the second half and essentially killed any hopes of a comeback by the Bulldogs.
Tiberius Drocea scored on a 33-yard touchdown with less than 7 minutes remaining and that was the end of the Bulldog’s journey.
“Only reason we’ve gotten this far is because we’re a team and we’re all brothers on the team,” defensive lineman Leon Williams said after the game. “There’s a lot of chemistry packed on top. We love everybody on this team. We’ve only got this far because of each other.”
With the win, Lowndes booked its first state championship appearance in 12 years.
The preseason No. 1-ranked Marietta Blue Devils.
They beat Parkview behind a 21-3 second quarter to advance to the state championship for the first time since 1967.
The matchup pits the preseason No. 1 team in the classification against the current consensus No. 1 team in the classification.
But according to Lowndes, the preparation for this test won’t be any different.
“The secret is: If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,” defensive lineman Thomas Davis said about the team’s mentality going into the championship game.
Lowndes and Marietta will face off in the 7A state championship game on Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. at Georgia State Stadium, formerly known as Turner Field.