September 18, 2009 8:21:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
SULLIGENT, Ala. -- Jimmy Lann delivered his best effort on one of the best nights to be a Lamar County Bulldog.
The senior had a sack that led to a touchdown and two more key defensive plays in the final five minutes Friday night to help Lamar County defeat Sulligent 21-20 in a Class 2A, Region 7 matchup at Brown Stadium.
The victory was the first for the Bulldogs (4-0) against the Blue Devils (2-2) since a 45-20 victory in 2005.
It also marks the program''s best start in more than 15 years.
"This is the biggest game of my life, it is the best game I have had in my life, and it means so much to me," Lann said. "(This rivalry) makes you want to play better and get in that weight room and push harder. I am so happy right now I can''t describe it."
Leading 21-14, Lamar County stopped Sulligent on downs at its 13 with 3 minutes, 8 seconds to play. But the Bulldogs went three-and-out on their next series and had to punt the ball back with 1:19 remaining.
A sack by Lann on first down and an incompletion by Sulligent quarterback Parker Northington set up third-and-16 from the Bulldogs'' 48. Junior running back Steven Stewart took the snap and hit Peter Swaringan, who flipped the ball to Robert White on a hook and ladder.
White bobbled the transition but secured it in time to race to the end zone to set the stage for overtime.
"We ran that in the first game against Hamilton (a 40-38 loss) in a do-or-die at the end of the game and almost broke it," Sulligent coach Dwight Bowling said. "I thought they might have been ready for it, but it worked beautifully. We didn''t even practice it (this week)."
Ishmael Riggins connected on the extra point to tie the game -- only for a few seconds.
A false start penalty negated the kick and forced the ball back to the 8-yard line. Riggins toed the 15 and then backed up. His second attempt went wide left to help the Bulldogs escape.
The swing in emotion was immense on both sidelines.
For Lann, he went to feeling "ridiculous" for allowing the hook and ladder when the defense knew it was coming to feeling an indescribable high.
"It was the most amazing feeling I have had in my life," Lann said.
The victory also was the first against Sulligent for senior quarterback Michael Bradford in his varsity career. He logged more minutes than usual on defense to help the Bulldogs earn that honor.
"We played hard," Bradford said. "A lot of people played a lot more time than they needed to. It was a hard football game."
Lamar County took the lead for good thanks to a 13-play drive that started with 23.7 seconds to go in the third quarter. The Bulldogs started on their 45 and pounded away on the ground except for one play to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Facing a third-and-14 from the Blue Devils'' 35, Bradford hit Eric Hudson for a 19-yard gain. Six plays later, Bradford pushed ahead for 3 yards and the touchdown.
"We just wanted to go down the field, nothing special, and protect the ball," Bradford said. "Our line played really well. I love them. Whenever we needed to get a little push we were able to get it because we that little fight in us."
Bowling said he entered the game thinking his line was a little stronger than Lamar County. But he credited the Bulldogs for "outplaying" his line a little bit
"They whipped us up front most of the night," Bowling said. "That last drive we just couldn''t stop them. That key play was that stinkin'' pass on third-and-long. They don''t usually do that, so give them credit."
Stewart scored on a 2-yard plunge in the first quarter to give the Blue Devils a 6-0 lead. The conversion run failed.
Lamar County recovered the ensuing onside kick and capitalized on the short field. Bradford capped the drive with a 6-yard scoring run.
Lann then made his presence felt.
On a play where time appeared to slow down, he raced around the left end and stalked the Sulligent quarterback, who had his back turned and was rolling to his left. Lann''s sack forced the ball loose and allowed Brandon Merchant to scoop it up and race 47 yards for the go-ahead score.
Lann wasn''t done.
Sulligent was driving in the fourth quarter and had a third-and-4 from the Bulldogs'' 7. But Lann helped stall the drive by stopping Stewart on a 6-yard loss.
"It was a big game and I knew they were coming," Lann said. "He was at quarterback, and he is not a quarterback, and I knew they were in the Wildcat and I knew they were coming my way. I just busted through there. It was a big play and I had to make it."
William Franks broke up a pass play at the goal line to help preserve the lead for a couple of minutes.
"It was a good football game tonight," Bowling said. "If they didn''t get their money''s worth tonight they don''t need to come back."
Stewart paced the Blue Devils with 175 yards on 27 carries. He spent a lot of the evening working out of the Wildcat formation, taking the direct snap and finding seams in the defense.
Stewart also saw time at quarterback in the Blue Devils'' rotation with Peter Swaringan and Parker Northington.
Bowling opted to have the ball in Stewart''s hands in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
Bowling said he wished he would have tried a two-point conversion for the victory after the penalty. He said the Blue Devils had performed well in the kicking game leading up to the game, but he second-guessed himself after the game.
Lamar County coach Ken Adams said former football coach Vance Herron told him after his first game against Sulligent that there is no other feeling like beating the Blue Devils.
Adams discovered for the first time what Herron means thanks to an impressive effort from his defense.
Now his seniors know what it feels like to beat Sulligent, too.
"The defense was unbelievable," Adams said. "They played with so much heart. Coach (Heath) Pennington does such a great job with them.
"Those kids fought their guts out. I am so proud of them. It was one to watch."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.