September 5, 2009 11:10:00 PM
CALEDONIA -- The West Lowndes High School football team capitalized on three first-half turnovers to build a big halftime lead en route to a 34-9 victory Friday night.
The win was especially sweet for the Class 2A Panthers, who improved to 3-0 and knocked off the Class 4A Confederates (0-2) in a David versus Goliath matchup.
"We try to get on every opportunity we receive," West Lowndes coach Bobby Berry said. "We''re a young team and still growing, and our goal is to get better every game we play."
Leading 2-0 after a safety midway through the first quarter, the Confederates turned the ball over near midfield to set up the Panthers'' first score, a 17-yard touchdown strike over the middle from quarterback Courtney Lucious to end Brandon Hill (who also recovered the fumble).
Hill''s catch capped a five-play, 46-yard march, but Lucious'' two-point conversion run failed to give West Lowndes a 6-2 lead with 1 minute, 17 seconds left in the first quarter.
Moments later, Hill recovered his second fumble at the Caledonia 37. Lucious connected on a 15-yard gainer to running back Antonio Wilson and then on a 20-yard strike to Hill to set up his 6-yard quarterback draw on the second play of the second quarter.
Going to the well once too often, the Confederates snuffed out Lucious'' draw play on the conversion.
Down 12-2, Caledonia battled back following a 24-yard punt return by Tyler Lowe to the Panthers'' 31. A great leaping catch by wide receiver Edmund Elizenberry on a pass from quarterback Brandon Bell went for 27 yards.
Senior Teche Beaugez then scored from 6 yards out and Kevin Kugel added the extra point to make it 12-9 with 5:37 left in the second quarter.
Undaunted, West Lowndes marched 80 yards to pay dirt in six plays to extend its lead to 20-9. Brandon Clark accounted for 64 yards on the drive with a pair of receptions, the second of which covered 24 yards on a pass he caught in the corner of the end zone between two defenders.
Lucious added the two-point conversion for a 20-9 lead with 2:51 remaining in the quarter.
A minute and a half later, another turnover cost the Confederates, as Climmie Hairston pounced on a fumble at the Caledonia 34. Lucious responded with a 34-yard touchdown strike to Andra Farmer on first down. Wilson added the two-point conversion for a 28-9 halftime lead.
"You can''t turn the ball over as many times as we did and expect to win a football game," Caledonia coach David Boykin said. "It doesn''t matter whether you play someone your own size or against a smaller school like West Lowndes. Even good teams are going to lose when they turn the ball over."
Defense was the name of the game in the second half, as neither team scored until late in the fourth quarter when Lucious found Wilson in the corner of the end zone on a 27-yard touchdown pass to account for the scoring.
West Lowndes had 406 total yards, 311 of which were credited to Lucious on a 13-of-22 passing performance for 231 yards for four touchdowns and a team-high 80 yards rushing on 15 carries for one score and a two-point conversion.
But Berry was careful not to go overboard with his praise for Lucious.
"He (Lucious) was sick with the flu this past week and he missed some work," Berry said. "He''s not a seasoned quarterback yet and he made some mistakes, but he''s a good kid who works hard and, hopefully, he''ll keep improving throughout the season."
Berry said Lucious'' teammates made his accomplishments possible.
"All the pass completions and all his yardage on the ground were the result of his receivers getting open and his line carrying out their blocking assignments," Berry said.
Not to be outdone, the Panthers'' defense helped force six turnovers (four fumble recoveries, two interceptions) and had 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage, plus two more for no gain.
All told, West Lowndes gave up just 37 yards rushing on 34 carries and 127 yards through the air, 112 of which came in the first half when Bell completed 7 of 12 passes.
One bright spot for Caledonia was the return efforts of Elizenberry, who finished with three kickoff returns for 69 yards and 20 more on a punt return.
"You have to hand it to West Lowndes," Boykin said. "They deserved to win. They executed better than we did and they made the plays where we didn''t. They have some fine athletes playing for them, and they seem to be a good group of kids."