August 28, 2010 11:04:00 PM
MILLPORT, Ala. -- Josh Harper hopes this game sets the tone for the South Lamar High School football team.
Locked in a battle with one of its most heated rivals, the Stallions waited until the final minute to work some magic -- and deliver a dagger.
Quarterback Jordan Smith lofted an 18-yard scoring strike to Nick Fisher with 53 seconds remaining to help lift South Lamar to a 27-20 victory against Lamar County.
"This was basically a year-long process after we got put out of the playoffs in November," said Harper, referring to South Lamar''s 1-9 season in 2009. "The boys have been working together, and this is the culmination of it. We had a chance to fold up and give in, and this was a good football team we went toe-to-toe with."
With the game tied at 20, South Lamar chewed up the clock in the fourth quarter with a 14-play, 74-yard drive. Faced with a fourth down and a timeout, Harper and offensive coordinator Lane Wright discovered they were on the same page in calling what proved to be the game-winning play. Harper said the coaches knew from last year and from watching film of Lamar County that the Bulldogs were a little susceptible to the rollout, a thought they had stashed in the back of their minds if they had a chance to use Smith in that situation.
Smith showed he had faith in Fisher by opting not to run the ball when he could have and staying in the pocket to take a hit.
The wait proved to be worth it, as Smith heaved the ball toward the end zone as a defender wrapped him up. The ball floated over another defender and fell into the arms of Fisher for the game-winning score.
"Jordan did a great job stepping up in the pocket and keeping the ball alive," Harper said. "The option was there to run it."
The score helped the Stallions avenge a 61-20 loss to the Bulldogs last year in Vernon, Ala. Harper said the victory is a testament to his players because they believed in themselves and in each other to give the school a victory he said it needed badly.
"(South Lamar) did a great job," Lamar County coach Ken Adams said. "They came out and wanted it more than we did."
South Lamar fell behind 14-0 after the first two possessions of the game but shut out Lamar County in the second half.
The Stallions totaled 241 yards on the night with a balanced attack of 142 yards through the air and another 126 on the ground.
"It was a team effort," Harper said. "You are going to have a couple of big plays every ball game and luckily we were on the big play part of it."
Smith completed 9 of 9 passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns. He also added a 14-yard rushing score and an interception.
"Our quarterback did a great job," Harper said. "He kept his focus and kept his poise, and I''m proud of him."
Hank Parker led South Lamar with 43 rushing yards on nine carries.
Daniel Atkinson was the leading receiver with one catch for a 45-yard touchdown. Ken Mitchell had three catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
The first quarter belonged to Lamar County, who took the opening drive 68 yards in 12 plays. Eric Hudson capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brantley Stanford on fourth-and-goal.
The Bulldogs pinned the Stallions deep on the ensuing possession to give their offense solid field position. Lamar County took advantage of the chance to start inside the red zone and scored three plays later on a 3-yard keeper by Hudson.
Stanford kicked his second extra point to give the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead.
But South Lamar answered on the first drive of the second quarter. The Stallions started at midfield and orchestrated a 12-play drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Mitchell.
Lamar County added another touchdown just before the half when Ken Hill scored from 4 yards with 38 seconds remaining before halftime.
But that was enough time for the Stallions to answer with a touchdown. Smith tossed a 45-yard strike down the right sideline to a streaking Atkinson to pull South Lamar within 20-13 and to give it confidence entering the locker room.
The Stallions didn''t let an hour-plus lightning delay at halftime affect their momentum. South Lamar took the opening drive of the second half 66 yards in five plays and used a 14-yard scamper by Smith and an extra point by Tyler Riley''s point to tie the game at 20.
Lamar County appeared to take the lead right back midway through the third quarter when Hudson returned a punt 88 yards up the right sideline. But the Bulldogs were flagged for three infractions on the play that negated the touchdown.
The Bulldogs finished with 254 yards of offense, including 227 yards rushing.
"We got away from what was working for us, which was finishing plays and finishing blocks," Adams said.
Hudson led Lamar County with 102 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He also completed 3 of 7 passes for 27 yards and one touchdown. He threw one interception.
Justin Perkins led the Bulldogs with two catches for 21 yards.
South Lamar will travel Friday to Hubbertville, while Lamar County will play host to Cherokee.