By Darren Nichols
LOCUST GROVE, Ga.—When the Luella Lions hosted the Fayette County Tigers last Friday night, there was plenty on the line with the playoffs approaching.
Both teams set atop the Region 5-AAAA rankings with the Lions an undefeated 4-0 in the region and the Tigers looming behind at 4-1. With this game having major implications of playoff seeding for their region, the Lions and Tigers seemed like they were both well prepared for one another.
But it was Fayette County coming away with the 21-0 win, handing the Lions their first shutout loss of the season.
In that game, both defenses played phenomenal in the first half, with the second quarter ending scoreless. The Tigers forced three turnovers, two coming in the Lions’ red zone, and one being an interception as the Lions were driving downfield. But Luella’s defense was equally impressive, stiffening even in response to the turnovers, limiting Fayette’s prolific rushing attack and forcing a punt on every Tiger drive.
It wasn’t until the second half when Fayette County’s Shaquille Ancrum and Joshua Thomas helped spark the offense, gaining multiple first downs off of big runs to lead to the Tigers’ first touchdown. Once that spark came, there were only flames to follow. The Tigers did their best impression of 1980s-style smashmouth football which gave way to three rushing touchdowns on consecutive drives running the ball repeatedly and after so much, the flood gates finally opened. The Tigers scored three rushing touchdowns on consecutive drives. Meanwhile, Luella’s offense couldn’t get untracked.
After a solid performance the week before against North Clayton where he threw a pair of touchdown passes, Luella’s junior quarterback, Destin Ingram couldn’t quite find a rhythm, particularly in the passing game.
It was a tough game to lose, not just because it represented Luella’s (6-3, 4-1 in Region 5-AAAA) first loss in region play, but it likely spoiled the chance for tonight’s home game against Riverdale (5-2, 4-0) to be a true defacto region championship game.
Luella now sits in third place behind the Raiders and Fayette (7-2, 5-1), and would need a win against Riverdale to force a logjam atop the region standings. Perhaps that’s the reason why Luella head coach, Craig Coleman was reluctant to talk about last week’s loss, opting, instead, to discuss the unique situation that potentially lies ahead.
If Luella comes out on top against Riverdale, it could lead to a three-way for first place in the region, and if that happens—due to the head-to-head wins each team has had against the other—the Lions could still be in position to claim a share of their first region title in school history.
“It is important that we win, because we would tie for the region championship,” Coleman said. “Even if it is a three-way tie and we all are crowned champs, that would be big for us because we have never been region champions here at this school. So we have alot to play for.”
One thing Luella has no doubt worked on during this shortened week of preparation is shoring up its run defense, but also sharpening red zone execution offensively. On three occasions the offense had the ball in its redzone, but those drives ended with a missed field goal and two turnovers.
Penalties also played a huge role in the shutout loss, on two occasions. On one play, Ingram completed a 40-yard pass to Rondell Johnson to put the Lions inside the Fayette County 5-yard line, but it was called back due to a holding call. Even more costly, a touchdown pass to running back James Jones was also called back late in the ball game due to an infraction.
Coleman mentioned that some of the lapses of concentration could’ve been due to fatigue setting in with having a short-handed roster. But when his team kicks off against Riverdale tonight, Coleman said that won’t be used as an excuse to not be ready to play in one of the biggest game’s in program history.
“(Last week) we were down 10 players, and the lack of depth led us to get tired, he said. “We still played hard, but to be able to be region champs we are going to have to be able to battle through adversity.”
Tonight’s game at Luella High School is set for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.